+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

The agonies of being an Arab democrat in the Knesset

When establishing the Knesset’s Palestinian democratic party, the founders of Balad had to shift their discourse and terminology: from the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of one inclusive democratic state, to the reinvention of Israel as a democratic state, the party’s secretary general writes. But has such a shift paid off?

By Awad Abdelfattah

On the eve of the 2009 Knesset elections, as I stepped off a platform following a political debate, an Israeli journalist approached me. “Is it true that you don’t vote,” she asked, “even though you are secretary general of a party that takes part in elections?”

I smiled. She was wrong – or rather her information was out of date. But at least she alluded to something that few Israeli Jews are aware of. For a Palestinian democrat and nationalist, participating in the Israeli Knesset is an agonizing compromise with one’s principles. I have never envied the Arab Knesset members from my own party, Balad, who are trying to promote a democratic and humanist vision for those who live in Palestine/Israel.

MK Hanin Zoabi (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

MK Haneen Zoabi (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

All of this has been underscored to me in recent days by the vilification of one of our legislators, Haneen Zoabi, since three Israeli teenagers went missing on June 12. She has been misquoted, her comments misrepresented and her real arguments ignored. As a result, she faces death threats and widespread incitement from Jewish legislators and the Israeli media.

Abandoning Communism, seeking a new paradigm

Before we established our party in the mid-1990s, most of the founders of Balad – or the National Democratic Assembly, as it is known in English – had to undergo a long and traumatic intellectual journey. The question before us was whether we could best effect change by engaging with the existing political system or by remaining outside it, focusing on our grass-roots activity.

I had been a member of the Marxist-nationalist movement of Abnaa al-Balad (Sons of the Village), which advocates a single democratic state in Palestine, and therefore always boycotts Knesset elections. The movement’s literature argues that the Israeli Knesset is at the apex of a system that legislated the colonization of our land and people. Involvement with this institution meant making a most fundamental political compromise.

This argument was bolstered for many political activists like myself by the experiences of Israel’s Arab-dominated Communist party. Through the fifties, sixties and seventies, when independent Arab parties were banned, Arab citizens who sought an outlet for their political activity supported the Communist party. For this reason, the party played an important role in the lives of Arab citizens during that period.

But despite its Arab-Jewish character and its recognition of Israel as the embodiment of Jewish self-determination, the party had failed over several decades to effect any meaningful change towards equality or make any ideological inroads in Israeli Jewish society.

Slowly many Palestinians in Israel began to realize that it was time to move beyond the Communist party’s approach. The slogan of equality, which has been the party’s ideological foundation, was exhausted. In recent decades, a new political awareness was emerging and needed a new political party – Balad – to articulate it.

Balad argued that efforts to integrate into Israeli society in the name of equality could never overcome the main ideological obstacle to equality: the Zionist-Jewish character of the state. The simple demand for equality was not only futile, but positively destructive. The newly emerging Palestinian elite concluded that by continuing to campaign for an undefined form of equality Palestinian citizens would obtain no real equality, in either national or civil rights. Instead they would simply damage the collective identity of the Palestinian minority in Israel.

New political thinking

This conclusion drew on the unique experiences of Palestinians in Israel. They had survived physically and culturally, but still faced an array of contradictions in the Israeli reality. These difficulties came to a head with the Oslo accords, which totally ignored and excluded the Palestinian minority from the proposed solution. The minority had to face the future on their own, in the context both of their Israeli citizenship and of the broader Palestinian cause.

By the 1990s large segments of the minority were already taking their citizenship more seriously, demanding true equality and not the degraded option of “integration.” The Communist party, which had formed and shaped the political discourse of the Palestinian minority for many years, was no longer capable of taking on this new challenge, and so its platform quickly became obsolete.

Around the time of the Oslo accords, the Palestinian minority faced many additional challenges: the collapse of the wider Palestinian national movement; the crumbling of the Soviet bloc and with it the loss of influence of the Communist party; and the breakdown of what was left of the regional Arab political system following the invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the subsequent  American war on Iraq. New political thinking was needed.

In the aftermath of Oslo, which the Communist party supported, many Palestinian activists and intellectuals were haunted by fears that large numbers of Palestinians would adopt defeatist positions. We worried that the youth, politically inexperienced and losing hope, would consider forgoing their national identity on the mistaken assumption that by joining Zionist parties and enlisting in the Israeli army they could win themselves equal rights. The urgent task was to create a new political and ideological platform that would prevent them from losing their way and becoming easy prey for the mainstream Zionist parties, the same parties that had been leading the systematic assault on our lands and destroying our cultural heritage and history through control of the school curriculum.

Sitting alongside those who have, and continue to kill our people

A new platform, requiring both full citizenship and a national identity, emerged as the new party emerged. Its slogans were: a state for all its citizens, full equality, and cultural autonomy for the Palestinian minority.

Former MK and Balad chairman Azmi Bishara (Photo: Thumar Almarzouki/CC)

Former MK and Balad chairman Azmi Bishara (Photo: Thumar Almarzouki/CC)

It was not an easy transition for many of the party’s founders. We had to shift our discourse and terminology: from the liberation of Palestine, all of Palestine, and the establishment of one inclusive democratic state, to the reinvention of Israel as a democratic state. The leadership, coming from different political factions and cultures, exhausted more than three years in debate. We believed we could transform the destructive contradictions of being present in the Knesset into a constructive process. The goal was to reconstruct the Palestinian minority’s political awareness by using the Knesset podium to launch an ideological confrontation with the Zionist character of the state. Azmi Bishara, the former leader of the party who is now in exile, was the leading intellectual among us, and he was the one who paid the highest cost.

The biggest challenge was entering the Knesset, where the racist laws are drafted and where our legislators would have to sit alongside those who have killed many of our people, and some who continue to kill them and even boast of it.

Some of the founders, especially those who had split from the Communist party, had already overcome the ideological difficulties of being in the Knesset. But those from political movements which had a history of boycott, such as myself and my colleagues from Abnaa al-Balad, had to begin a long and painful journey.

On the one hand, we understood that we needed a platform to reach both the Israeli Jewish public and, more importantly, our own people, many of whom expected us to be there. On the other hand, we feared falling into the trap of the Communist party, even if we offered a very different platform: namely, challenging the Jewish character of the state.

At the end, a compromise was reached among the leadership: The party would stand for election to the Knesset with a bold and innovative platform, but each of us had the option of not standing for the Knesset list if we found it too difficult to contemplate.

Although I have held the post of the secretary general for many years, I have visited our legislators in the Knesset only twice. I detest its racist environment. For that reason, I have only admiration for my comrades – Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas – who endure it. Even so, my avoidance of the Knesset has not saved me from almost constant surveillance over three decades, as well as persecution and harassment at the airport – and that despite the fact that we are a legal party.

The Knesset floor. (Photo: Itzik Edri/CC)

The Knesset floor. (Photo: Itzik Edri/CC)

If Israel’s extreme right and its so-called liberal Zionists think that we are happy to be in the Knesset, they are very wrong. We pay a price each day. It is a compromise we make for the sake of our people, and for the hope of publicizing and promoting our democratic and humanist vision for a common life in this conflict-ravaged land.

Coming full circle

Few people probably know that on the eve of the last two Knesset elections, the party’s political bureau engaged in serious debate about whether our party’s continuing participation in the Knesset was useful. This was both because of the Palestinian minority’s growing marginalization and because of the suspicion that by being in the Knesset we were propping up Israel’s self-image as a democratic country, at a time when its international isolation was growing.

This debate dates back to the time of the Balad party’s establishment, but it has been revived among the leadership given the relentless campaign of incitement and political persecution of the party’s leaders. The party has faced numerous attempts at disqualification too.

Azmi Bishara, the party’s former leader and member of Knesset, was forced into exile in 2007. In earlier years he had been subjected to frequent incitement campaigns and put on trial several times. Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, wrote in his memoirs in 2001 that Azmi Bishara should be tried for not recognizing the Jewish state, and his party banned.

The recent attacks on Haneen Zoabi cannot be explained simply by the extreme right’s growing power; they are characteristic too of the ideology of the Zionist tribe, whether of the left or right. For the tribe, the Zionist and colonial character of the state is sacred. It is the supremacist thinking of the colonialist who expects the colonized to behave according to the rules of hospitability he has set down. He is the host, the owner of the land, and we the Palestinians, even those of us who hold Israeli citizenship, are the guests.

Our job is to remind Israelis, from within the system, that it is we who are the hosts and they the colonizers. Because we keep offering them true equality, they come under constant moral pressure and respond with further hostility. Israelis need to see us either as passive, accepting of their ethnic supremacy, or as chauvinist and inhuman, thereby justifying to them their evermore brutal practices, including ethnic cleansing.

Because Zionism is an inherently racist ideology, one which does not seek to exist with the indigenous population but rather to ethnically cleanse and exclude us, it is in real trouble. As a result, all Palestinians continue to suffer under a brutal colonial and apartheid regime. The insane and reckless political behavior of the current government will only fuel the fire in Palestine, and help to further isolate this apartheid regime. Believers in justice here and abroad, whether Palestinian or Jew, Israeli or non-Israeli, still have much work to do to shorten the path toward peace and justice.

In Balad the debate about our platform has spread: not only do we discuss whether we should continue participating in the Knesset but also whether, given the contradictions inherent in a Zionist-Jewish state, we should continue to struggle for the country’s transformation into a true democracy. Many of us, myself included, now believe it is time to move beyond this thinking and accept it is outmoded. The campaign now should be for a single democratic state, offering peace and justice to all those living in historic Palestine.

Awad Abdelfattah is the secretary general of Balad, which holds three seats in the current Knesset.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. Shaun

      “Our job is to remind Israelis, from within the system, that it is we who are the hosts and they the colonizers.”

      Funny, In almost every other government system, the job of a parliamentarian is to represent the constituents.

      Reply to Comment
      • “Our job is to remind Israelis, from within the system, that it is we who are the hosts and they the colonizers.”

        And what hosts the Arabs were. Killings, banditry and violence exerted against Jewish communities in the 1910s were followed by pogroms in 1920 and 1921. These were followed by the blotting out of existence of a 3000 year Jewish presence in Hebron and mind numbing massacres of children, men and women in Safad (the third such savage massacre of Jews in Safad in less than one century). The Arab Black hand carried on killings and attacks against Jewish civilians in the 1930s. During the 1936-39 riots hundreds of Jews were killed. Arabs killed Jewish neighbors in Tiberias and the surrounding countryside for no other reason that there were Jewish.

        The 1937 Peel Report found that fear and hatred of the Jewish people permeated the Arab population and the commission feared that Arabs would massacre their Jewish inhabitants if a single state was established.

        Of course this was exactly what the Arabs attempted in the 1947-1948 war but failed to do and in their attempt they caused a catastrophe to themselves from which they have yet to recover.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          There’s little difference between what happened in Palestine during the 20’s and 30’s and the other British domains with civilian settlements. 1000-1500 British civilians were killed during the Sepoy mutiny of 1857, for example. Had it been British nationals instead of Jews in Palestine they would have faced the same reception.

          High concept: If you want to live peacefully somewhere, don’t rely on military occupiers.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            So, can you explain to us what is going on in Syria today? Are the victims there foreigners as well? How about Egypt? Iraq? Sudan? Nigeria?

            It’s all those pesky foreigners…

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            If you want to make it a contest, the Arab world still has a lot of catching up to do before it can match the bloody record of Europe, which slaughtered millions outside and inside. Yet no one demagogically pretends killing is a special European trait without examining the specific historical actors.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Oh no, dude, I’m Jewish. I’m a Zionist in part because of my people’s history in the Land of Israel, but in part because of European (and Christian) violence and second class treatment against Jews as well as Arab (and Muslim) violence and second class treatment against Jews. It seems that if you’re Jewish you had better have your own state and a tough army to ensure that others’ attempts to hurt you are minimized.

            Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        “Our job is to remind Israelis, from within the system, that it is we who are the hosts and they the colonizers.”

        Between this sentiment and the Rami Younis 972 article the other day where he explicitly placed Israeli leftist supporters of the Palestinians a step beneath all Arabs involved in the “struggle,” I have to wonder what 972 writers and their political compatriots think of all this. Do they accept their inferior status, buy into the colonialist paradigm or do they ask themselves whether everything they believe to be true is built upon foolish naivete or, possibly, self-loathing?

        Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      The writer did not mention why Bishara was “forced” into exile. I wonder why?
      Possibly a fear that giving the reason about why Bishara did a “runner” from Israel may spoil the narrative.
      Bishara was aiding and abetting Hezbolla.
      He also talks about “racist Laws” being drafted in the Knesset. Which laws is he talking about. What racist laws does Israel have. Specific facts about these laws please: not vague allegations of perceived racism [which anyone can easily do]

      Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        Still waiting for someone to tell me which are in Israel are racist???

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          A typo.
          Meant to say which laws

          Reply to Comment
        • Catweasel321

          Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State’s Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israel Lands Administration Law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1965), and the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories


          Reply to Comment
    3. Baladi Akka 1948

      The final scene in Simone Bitton’s documentary “Citizen Bishara” shows Azmi Bishara in the Knesset: the Jewish members all rise to sing the Hatikva, and Bishara who’s all dressed in black (and his hair and moustache were still black at the time too) rises too. The camera zooms on Bishara who’s bowing his head in sign of grief while the colonizers sing and praise the destruction of Palestine.

      Great article, more power to Balad !

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis


        The Hatikvah is one of the top-10 most powerful words in the life of the Jewish People. It means Hope. The Hope that tore through the walls of centuries banishment, hazardous life- and near extinction in exile and reconstituted the Jewish People in The Land Of Israel. The Land Of Israel rejoiced at the return of her sons and daughters. Today the Land Of Israel blooms and blossoms again – after centuries of neglects and severe damage caused to her by invading foreign armies and squatters.

        Reply to Comment
        • Baladi Akka 1948

          Yeah, I wouldn’t expect a racist thug like you to understand that the creation of the State of Israel was a NAKBA (catastrophy) to the indigenous Palestinian population.
          I hope at least you get paid to write your crap !

          Reply to Comment
          • Marcos

            Catastrophe? Only because they did not go along with the program.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Bar

      The bottom line is that because you are a party of anti-Israel extremists – after all, Israel is already a democracy for all of its citizens – you do a disservice to your own constituents. Two of the key reasons Israeli Arabs have progressed slowly in many respects within Israeli society are 1. that their Knesset reps constantly criticize the very foundations of the state, its democracy, its leadership, its culture and anything else they can attack; and, 2. that their Knesset representatives stand in such opposition to the state that they don’t join coalitions and therefore have little influence or leverage to gain benefits for their people, as do other parties that are willing to compromise and play normal politics. There have been left wing parties that have joined the right in coalitions, Orthodox parties that join secular governments, etc., but the Arab parties like Balad are busy attacking instead of compromising and participating. They are too busy attacking the entire structure.

      Maybe that leads to good media coverage (except when the leader is caught talking to Hizbullah), but it is a shame for your voters.

      Instead of taking care of your people, you are busy talking to Hizbullah and going on anti-Israel flotillas. Then you blame the Jewish Israelis for not taking care of your needs (which they do anyway, strangely).

      It’s a fine thing you don’t vote because you don’t really respect the society in which you are a citizen. You are willing to take but not to give and therefore your choice of rejecting the right to participate in its democracy as a voter is absolutely the correct choice.

      By the way, as to your comment: “…the vilification of one of our legislators, Haneen Zoabi, since three Israeli teenagers went missing on June 12. She has been misquoted, her comments misrepresented and her real arguments ignored…”

      We can all watch TV and read articles. There is no confusion about what she’s saying. We’re not stupid.

      Reply to Comment
    5. To those complaining here about how ungrateful those “Arabs” are after they were allowed to take part in “our” (i.e. the Jewish) Knesset, here is a simple question. The Arab parties, including the Communists, now campaign for a “state of all its citizens” (even if some use slightly different terminology). That is, they demand equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs. In 2006 the Shin Bet discussed this campaign with Ehud Olmert and issued a statement concluding that the demand was “subversion” and that Israel was entitled to use “any means, including non-democratic ones” to defeat the campaign. So please explain to us how such a state fits with normal interpretations of democracy. Everything else being discussed in relation to this article is simply “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

      Reply to Comment
      • “The Arab parties, including the Communists, now campaign for a “state of all its citizens”

        Israel already has a state for all of its citizens. In 1948 the Jewish Yishuv exercised its right of self determination and recreated the state of Israel. It is a Jewish majority state with an Arab minority. The state’s culture, laws and customs reflect the majority Jewish population. The minorities in Israel enjoy better rights than most Arabs in the region.

        What Awad Abdelfattah and his party want is a state that includes people who are not citizens of the state of Israel. Awad states:

        “The campaign now should be for a single democratic state, offering peace and justice to all those living in historic Palestine.”

        In other words what he is suggesting is the elimination of the democratic country or Israel, its institutions, customs and laws, and substituting it with another Arab majority state incorporating the totalitarian states of PA ruled West Bank and Hamastan, both of which were founded on the principle of the destruction of the Israeli state and the killing of the Jewish inhabitants and the dismembering of their institutions, laws and customs.

        From an Arab perspective nothing could be more fair than the destruction of the Israeli state and giving Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza free run to attempt one more time to commit genocide against the Jewish people of Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Daniel Rocha

          So, that means Israel cannot be a democracy, since all citizens having equal rights would mean severing its right to self determination. So, it’s a, what?, an example of original democracy? Some people in Athens were more equal than others.

          If it has more non Jews than Jews, that would mean? Expelling, apartheid or final solution?

          Oh, no!, you are comparing to the neighbor countries. Not to the ones, which are better off, like those countries in the Americas, Europe, India, Southwest Asia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand.

          Yes. It must be countries which have a long history of dictatorship, due colonialism and cold war crashes. Perhaps the closest in ideology is Iran, since that’s where Shia exerted its right to self determination and they have voting.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        “To those complaining here about how ungrateful those “Arabs” are after they were allowed to take part in “our” (i.e. the Jewish) Knesset,”

        Not a single comment says this. Not one.

        “The Arab parties, including the Communists, now campaign for a “state of all its citizens” (even if some use slightly different terminology). That is, they demand equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs.”

        They have equal citizenship.

        If you mean that they want to change Israel into a “Naqba” accepting state that eliminates its identity as a Jewish homeland, then it seems their demand isn’t equality but rather the destruction of the right to self-determination of the Jewish people.

        “In 2006 the Shin Bet discussed this campaign with Ehud Olmert and issued a statement concluding that the demand was “subversion” and that Israel was entitled to use “any means, including non-democratic ones” to defeat the campaign.”

        I looked for this and couldn’t find it. I did find a record of a talk given by Ami Ayalon in 2006, quoted by Tom Segev, where he is paraphrased as saying “He has no objections to Israel’s Arabs serving in the Israel Defense Forces, if they so wish, and if they serve in the IDF, they can also serve in the Shin Bet. He has no objections to an Arab member of Knesset being a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He hopes to ease the security check that Arabs undergo at Ben-Gurion International Airport…The Shin Bet does not view the Arabs in Israel as a threat, Ayalon maintains…”

        “So please explain to us how such a state fits with normal interpretations of democracy.”

        The very fact that Abdelfattah wrote this article, that the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset is Arab, that more Christian Israelis (Arabs) matriculate than Jewish Israelis, the fact that Adalah can compose whatever screeds it feels like and they face zero consequences because it’s perfectly legal, affirmative action policies for Arabs (some of which came into place in 2006 and 2007, by the way) to enable them to participate more in the economy and particularly in the government’s bureaucracy, etc., etc., etc., etc. all prove your claim to be false and pernicious.

        “Everything else being discussed in relation to this article is simply “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.”

        On the basis of your false claims about what these comments supposedly say, it’s not surprising that you’re wrong in the rest of your comments. I’d suggest your comments end up being the ones signifying nothing.

        Reply to Comment
      • Guy L.

        Sure, they campaign for a state of all its citizens, while adding that
        “Our job is to remind Israelis, from within the system, that it is we who are the hosts and they the colonizers.”

        Which kind of makes me think that this is not so much of a struggle for equality, but a nationalistic struggle for national liberation.

        Frankly- Israel is not a modern style democracy. It’s democrat-ish.
        There are quite a few faults in the way the government runs its business, and it shows.

        But on the other hand, when a large chunk of the population wants to remind you that you’re the evil colonizer and put you in your place, and remind you where you belong (which is back in Europe, according to several people I’ve spoken with), I think the odds are rather against a true democracy emerging.

        Reply to Comment
      • Shaun

        With all you random conspiracy theories and hate, Balad, Hadash and other anti-Zionist parties are still around and they are going now where. All this mumbo jumbo about “any means necessary” was just more in your imagination than reality. Kind of like the way you reported about Jenin a few years ago.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Ginger Eis

      The agonies of Palestinian MKs are unbearable. Oh may Al Mahdi come quickly and deliver his people from the following suffering imposed on them by the evil Zionist entity:
      a. $ 10.391 salary per month, (same as in top EU countries!)
      b. A new, fat car of his/her choosing from six different models!
      c. Paid travels and accommodation in expensive hotels abroad!
      d. $18,500 budget to “maintain contact” with the public!
      e. $7,470 for a cellphone, two newspaper subscriptions, two home phone lines (one of which is a fax machine)!
      f. $1,155 reimbursement per year in clothing expenses!
      g. $28 per diem for food and lodging on days when Knesset sessions run long!
      h. Reimbursement for mailing expenses for up to 15,000 items
      i. A furnished two-room office at the Knesset in Jerusalem, which includes basic services and a shower!
      j. Three desktop computers, a printer and 32-inch television.
      k. Two assistants with monthly salaries of $2,582!


      Reply to Comment
    7. Lots more sound and fury – and zero light. So to those evading my simple question by insisting that Israel is a normal western-style democracy, please explain why Israel has been unable to pass a law enshrining equality as a core legal principle. Israel even failed to include a clause on equality in the Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity, usually termed Israel’s bill of rights. How so?

      Reply to Comment
      • Mr. Cook you know as well as anyone the Declaration of Israeli Independence enshrined equality as a guiding principle:

        “WE DECLARE that …

        “THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the in gathering of the Exiles;it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions;”

        Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        Wow, Jonathan Cook demonstrates the very definition of trolling. This is amusing.

        You were answered directly.

        As to your new question, seeking to move the goalposts, you are wrong again. Former Chief Justice Aharon Barak stated that rights that exist in modern democracies as well as other rights have been included directly and indirectly in the Basic Laws:


        In other words, your suggestion that equality isn’t part of Israel’s overarching laws is negated by the Declaration of Independence, by customary laws and rulings that prevailed before the Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity passed, and became enshrined in this Basic Law because the courts viewed equality as an inherent right on the basis of previous laws and the requirement in this Basic Law to preserve dignity.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Thanks for (inadvertently) making my point for me, CentreLeft. Your quote neatly illustrates why the Declaration of Independence is of declarative and not legal value. Look at the principles enshrined in that single paragraph you cite. A pledge to guarantee equality next to two explicit commitments to inequality, on immigration and the primacy of core Jewish values (derived from the “prophets of Israel” no less!). That’s why in a “normal” democratic state, you have laws with constitutional force that *explicitly* enshrine the value of equality as a supreme legal value, one that trumps all other values. Israel has not done that – and for very good reason, which is that most of its central laws violate the principle of equality (on immigration, on access to land, on housing, on distribution of government resources, etc).

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        Your claims are false, and where there is doubt, the High Court has stepped in and ensured equality.

        And, of course, in areas such as taxation, military service and civic commitment to Israel, the vast majority of Israeli Arabs CHOOSE not to act like equals to Israelis…as politicians such as Zoabi and Abdelfattah demonstrate and remind us. Yet, they expect full equality in what they receive. How many receive bituach leumi? How many received extra subsidies for multiple children (talk about equality!), how many towns receive extra national funds because the townspeople’s taxation base is so low? How many Palestinians were allowed into Israel on family reunification before Israel closed that door after a couple of suicide bombings involving those new immigrants?

        Here, enjoy the read – it includes many challenges to your claims of unfairness to Israeli Arabs:


        Reply to Comment
        • Bar, please explain to us, then, how the Law of Return does not explicitly violate the principle of equality on immigration rights – or, if you prefer, how the Israeli courts have stepped in to rectify this blatant and institutionalised discrimination. Similarly, with the admissions committees. And so on.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Jonathan Cook, first you must (a) state whether you think that “the Law of Return (…) explicitly violates the principle of equality on immigration rights” and (b) why you think so. Then Bar or anyone else will know what your issue is and where- and how to begin to tackle your question. That’s how to debate. Would you like to do that and cite your sources where necessary or do you prefer running around circles using screeds and diatribes pretending to be making any legal arguments as you have done so far? Let’s hear your legal arguments then. The time starts now.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger, Just spotted this – our timings seem to be out. Now the limits of your legal expertise are clearer, and I realise my question to you below is going to remain unanswered. Let’s hope there is someone out there with a legal training who can explain why Israel needs two Citizenship Laws, one for Jews (the Law of Return of 1950) and one for non-Jews (the Citizenship Law of 1952). In the US, the legal principle was established that separate cannot be equal. Here in Israel it seems that simple truth still cannot be digested by most cultists of the Jewish state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Jonathan, you continue to evade responding to the many points made that counter your arguments.

            Is it uncomfortable for you that so many facts don’t align with your presentation?

            Regarding Law of Return, how does that discriminate against Arab citizens? Are they returning somewhere? The law exists to enable Jews, often the victims of violence and discrimination outside of Israel, to move to Israel. How does that discriminate against resident of Umm al Fahm?

            Israel allows for naturalization and immigration of non-Jews. For example, 100,000 Palestinians immigrated into Israel in the 1990s and early 2000s under family reunification laws…until a couple of them committed terrorist acts and Israel closed that avenue for Arab immigration into Israel.

            Which reminds us again, by the way, that Israel was founded to provide a refuge and a home for the Jewish people AFTER an unwanted war launched by the local Arabs against the Yishuv, and then by regional Arabs against the nascent state. Perhaps it’s time for the outraged anti-Israelis living inside Israel to come to terms with the fact that Israel represents justice, not injustice. It exists because the Arabs refused any compromise, preferred violence and ultimately watched with satisfaction as the Middle East and Muslim countries were drained of Jews, 75% of whom moved to Israel where they and their offspring represent half of Israeli Jews today. To suggest that it’s discriminatory to permit their easy access to Israel seems to up-end the history of this conflict.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Jonathan Cook, (a) the Declaration of Independence is NOT (just) declarative but in fact a binding legal document with serious legal consequence(s); said Declaration is the single legal act without which the legal construct: ‘The State Of Israel’ could not have come into existence! (b) Israel’s Basic Law (and btw. other laws) guarantees equality. Such is evident in the use of the word “all” re all protected fundamental rights in the Basic Law. “All” means “all”, not ‘some’. Furthermore, in Kol-Ha’am vs. Interior Minister (re press freedom; 1953)), the Israeli Supreme Court used the Declaration of Independence as a source of law (albeit an indirect on); (c) In Israel, the ‘principle of equality’ is one of the core ‘General Principles of Law’. General Principles of Law’ are major sources of law that bind all branches of the Israeli Knesset, Executive and Judiciary (and in some cases Israeli private citizens)! (d) the Israel Basic Law and the US Constitutions are similar. None of them “explicitly enshrines the value of equality as a supreme legal value”. In the US, SCOTUS infered/deduced ‘equal protection’ from the 4th Amendment. In Israel the Supreme Court infers/deduces equal protection from specific legislations that specifically guarantee equality and/or from General principles of Law; (e) UK, New Zealand, etc. have neither a Constitution nor any provision containing explicit general equality. Apparently – in YOUR opinion – the UK, the United State, New Zealand, etc. are NOT “normal democratic state[s] [where] you have laws with constitutional force that *explicitly* enshrine the value of equality as a supreme legal value, one that trumps all other values”, no?! You see, Mr. Cook, before you pretend to know the law and sound off arrogant and cocky, pls. try to at least make sure that you understand the basics of law, lest you make a public fool of yourself, ok? Written- and unwritten law have the SAME legal force (i.e. if you know what unwritten law means)!

        Reply to Comment
        • Thanks, Ginger. Glad to see we have a legal expert BTL. Lots of information there, none of which addresses my series of questions. So please now shed light on the simplest question I asked, the one just above your post. For someone with your familiarity with Israeli law, this should be a piece of cake. Here it is again: How does the Law of Return not explicitly violate the principle of equality on immigration rights? And if you concede it does, when did the supreme court step in to rectify such institutionally discriminatory legislation?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Jonathan Cook,
            (a) Do you think that “the Law of Return (…) explicitly violate the principle of equality on immigration rights”? If yes,
            (b) Why?
            You need to make a case using legal arguments and providing your sources. Then I will make a rebuttal case based on legal arguments, provide sources and prove you wrong. That’s how to have a structured and fruitful debate. The ball’s in your court, let’s hear you arguments. Begin FIRST by explaining to us the legal meaning of the “principle of equality” (incl. the hard rule, exceptions and grounds for justification of unequal treatment) and cite at least ONE case law. The time starts now.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger.

            a) Yes.

            b) Because immigration rights are available to only one group based on their ethnicity, religion.

            That was easy.

            Now, maybe you’d like to make the case that having two citizenship laws, conferring different rights (unless you want to argue that Israel created two identical citizenship laws, just with different names), accords with the legal principle of equality. Let’s take immigration as one illustration of discrimination and inequality. Your time starts now.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Jonathan Cook, here is your answer:
            (a) Israel does not have two citizenship laws;
            (b) (b1) The only citizenship law Israel has applies equally to ALL her citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. (b2) There are many ways to acquire Israeli citizenship under said law. You have failed to articulate for us why you think that said law is discriminatory, but because I quess what you are unable to articulate, I will say the following to reward your efforts: (b3) The children of all Israeli citizens born in Israel automatically acquire Israeli citizenship. (b4) The children of all Israeli citizens born OUTSIDE of Israel automatically acquire Israeli citizenship. (b5) The children of the children of all Israeli citizens who were born OUTSIDE of Israel are NOT Israeli citizens if they themselves are also born outside of Israel, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, genders, etc.
            (c) The Law of Return does NOT apply at all to any Israeli citizen. In fact, one of the conditions to be eligible for the rights under the Law of Return is that one is NOT an Israeli citizen.
            Thus, I see no discrimination anywhere, do you?

            Reply to Comment
          • Thanks, Ginger. Now I can call you a liar with no fear of a libel action. I’ve heard of hasbara, but you take it to a whole new level. Congratulations!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            You are most welcome, Jonathan Cook, your grudging concession is accepted.

            I rest my case, your Honor!

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            Ginger, since you’re consciously evading Jonathans question, again and again, I’ll ask you again:

            “How does the Law of Return not explicitly violate the principle of equality on immigration rights?”

            Citizen or not, doesn’t really matter. How can a law that discriminates against one set of people based on ethnicity and religion not violate the (legal and moral) priciple of equality?

            And what about Israel before 1965, when Arab Israeli citizens were subject to martial law, but Jews were not?

            Was Israel an Apartheid state then? Or how else would you characterize it?

            I bet you’ll selectively only answer one of these questions in a very distorting way, but we’ll see.

            Reply to Comment
          • Michael W


            Obligation of equality within the state does not apply to immigration rights.

            In the United States and Canada, additional rights are given to “First Nations” and “American Indians”. I can get Spanish citizenship because I’m Sephardi.

            The United States and many European countries provide immigration opportunities to communities suffering from sectarian-ethnic-religious conflicts. Israel provides the same for Jews because no one else did or will.

            Martial law doesn’t make apartheid. Israeli Arabs served in the same Knesset as Israeli Jews. Yes, it was discriminatory, but does anyone apply the apartheid term to every discriminatory law (especially from decades ago) in any other country?

            Reply to Comment
    9. Richard

      Israel’s neighbors = a military junta, a millenialist shia mini-state, a colonial-era monarchy, a baathist warzone, and…a “Caliphate” that saws off civilian hands. Have the Israeli peddlers of Palestinian nationalism ever looked more foolish or dishonest than now?

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        I’ll tell you when: never.

        It is dawning on the people of the world, more and more, and even on the American Jewry, that Israel is an Apartheid and opressor-state.

        Sure, many of Israel’s neigbors are even worse opressor-states, but then again they don’t operate with full international and western support. And nobody in their right mind would call them democratic. Not even “Islamic and democratic”.

        I can understand the panic of you Hasbarists, as you realize that the Zionist project is showing it’s ugly side to the world more and more clearly. I may even have some sympathy, like for a delusional psychopath that finally realizes that most of what he always thought was right is actually wrong, he just didn’t see it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Michael W


          “It is dawning on the people of the world, more and more, and even on the American Jewry, that Israel is an Apartheid and oppressor-state.”

          On what basis? Israel is experiencing unprecedented economic growth and tourism. Interest in Israel and the Palestinians is at its lowest point in decades.

          Am I wrong about this? Am I delusional?

          Reply to Comment
    10. Click here to load previous comments