Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tyler Levitan Headshot

Israel Must Choose A 'Jewish Democracy' Or A Liberal One

Posted: Updated:
ericsphotography via Getty Images

In my recent HuffPost Canada commentary, "Israel's Actions in Palestine are the Definition of Apartheid," I argued that Israel's actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory -- particularly in the West Bank -- meet the legal definition of apartheid under international law.

I also claimed that Israel's apologists focus exclusively on "Israel proper" as a way to avoid addressing the allegations against Israel's apartheid rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They also fail to acknowledge that the crime of apartheid exists in international law and can be applied to cases other than South Africa.

It appears that Jake Beaumont of the Orwellian-named Honest Reporting Canada either didn't read my commentary -- or decided it was preferable to simply ignore everything in it -- when he wrote a response on HuffPost entitled "10 Reasons Israel is not an 'Apartheid' State."

Like every other piece of Israeli propaganda, it avoids the substantiated claims presented by Israel's critics. It focuses instead on rehashing the same two points: 1) Israel is a liberal democracy with full equality for its citizens and minorities, and 2) South African apartheid wasn't democratic, so Israel cannot be an apartheid state.

Beaumont and other apologists for Israel consistently ignore the realities of the Occupied Palestinian Territory: roughly 600,000 Israeli Jews live there and are granted full rights as Israeli citizens, while Palestinians living in the same geographic area are subject to Israeli military rule with vastly inferior rights.

Human Rights Watch's report "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" documents this reality in meticulous detail.

Israel's apologists assume that their audience will unquestioningly accept their claim that Israel is a Western-style democracy with full equality for its citizens and minorities. This claim has been repeated so often that it is rarely, if ever, challenged. But is this claim correct?

Israel was founded as a state in 1948. Put briefly, the result of Israel's birth as a state was the forced expulsion and flight of roughly 750,000 of the native Arab inhabitants. The removal of Palestinians and the prevention of their return -- aimed to violently engineer and maintain a Jewish demographic majority -- have led Israel to declare itself a "Jewish and democratic state."

Israel's laws establish that the lands it controls belong to Jews around the world, rather than to the state's citizens, and certainly not to the inhabitants who were driven out. Palestinians who lived there for countless generations are to this day barred from returning (let alone visiting), while a Jewish person from anywhere in the world can obtain automatic citizenship, choosing to live wherever they want within Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Despite Israel's desire to drive out as many native Arab residents as possible in the period from 1947 to 1948, there remained roughly 180,000 Palestinians in the newly declared state. These Palestinians -- who would later become citizens of Israel and now number roughly 1.5 million -- lived under strict military rule until 1966 with severely limited rights.

Israelis either have Jewish nationality -- which affords them exclusive rights and privileges based solely on their ethno-religious background -- or are assigned a nationality by the state.

Like their Palestinian counterparts driven out of the newly created state, the internally displaced Palestinians were prevented from returning to their hometowns and dubbed "present absentees." This allowed Israel to orchestrate massive confiscation of Palestinian lands that were consolidated as nationalized lands for Jewish control.

During this period of military rule, Israel's border police murdered 48 Palestinian civilians (including 23 children) in the village of Kafr Qasim during the 1956 Suez War.

The mass murder by Israeli police of Palestinian citizens has occurred on other occasions, including the murder of 13 unarmed protesters in 2000, in which not one member of the Israeli security forces was indicted.

Suffice it to say, Jewish-Israeli civilians have never been subject to massacres by Israeli police officers, and are not subject to Israel's secret police employing torture against Palestinian activists who campaign for a state for all its citizens.

As well, Jewish citizens have never dealt with being repeatedly displaced by force, and aren't subjected to ongoing land confiscations and house demolitions, as the Bedouin are.

Many people are unaware that Israel lacks a constitution. Rather, it has several Basic Laws, none of which guarantee equality for Israel's Palestinian minority.

In 2014 the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the Admissions Committees Law. These committees, operating in 43 per cent of Israeli towns, have been granted legal permission to reject applicants based on the criteria of "social suitability."

According to Human Rights Watch, these committees "have notoriously been used to exclude Arabs from living in rural Jewish communities."

Things aren't getting progressively better; in fact, they're getting worse. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel points out that "[a] tide of anti-democratic legislative proposals is being introduced in the Knesset and there is a rising wave of assaults on social, political and national minorities in the public sphere."

Incitement to violence by Israeli leaders against both Palestinians and African migrants is rampant and goes unpunished by the state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even incited racism against Palestinian citizens as part of a planned strategy to get re-elected.

Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel acknowledges that Israel has characteristics of a liberal democracy such as a free press and the rule of law. However, it fails to meet another requirement of any liberal democracy -- equality for all its citizens -- since Israel legally enshrines domination of one ethnic group over all others, with the dominant group controlling virtually all of the state's resources and lands. He therefore describes Israel as an "ethnocracy."

A key difference between Israel and other liberal democracies is the way Israel differentiates between nationality and citizenship. In liberal democracies such as Canada, anyone can become a Canadian national regardless of their background.

In Israel, there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. Israelis either have Jewish nationality -- which affords them exclusive rights and privileges based solely on their ethno-religious background -- or are assigned a nationality by the state.

All liberal democracies link nationality to origin from or residence in a territory. Not Israel. If you're a non-Jewish citizen, you can never be accepted as a national of the "Jewish state," and are hence subject to discrimination based on dozens of laws. Palestinian citizens of Israel are granted more rights than Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories, but they are not equal to Jewish citizens.

That means that between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River -- an area of land over which Israel has ruled for nearly 50 years -- there's a situation in which inhumane acts are "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

This is the wording of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court's definition of the crime of apartheid.

As Oren Yiftachel posits in a recent piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israel's differential rights and system of ethnic domination within the areas over which it rules "... remind one of South Africa in the past: Jews between the Jordan and the sea are 'white' citizens, Arabs in Israel have 'coloured' (in other words, partial) citizenship, and Palestinians in the territories have 'black' citizenship, without political rights."

This is the inconvenient truth about Israel that its apologists wish for us not to see. But regardless of the labels, it is irrefutable that the current system of rule is incompatible with Canadian values and must be transformed into a state that treats all its inhabitants as equals.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook


West Bank bus ban
Share this
Current Slide