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When racial profiling is a national policy

Palestinian citizens have many rights in Israel, but they are not equal citizens. Only by removing all discriminatory elements from the legal system will Israel cease to be a democracy of racial profiling.

Following one of his visits to Israel, Jewish-American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg praised last year the ease with which he underwent the security procedures at Ben-Gurion International Airport, compared with the long waits he experienced in U.S terminals. Racial profiling made all the difference: while Israeli Jews and many white Westerners – especially those with Jewish names – are rushed through the lines in Israeli terminals and gates, every person with a Muslim or Arab name or appearance – including Israeli citizens – is subject to long interrogations and searches. Solely by being Jewish, Goldberg is entitled to better treatment than Israeli citizens who actually live here.

Racial profiling at Ben-Gurion has received some attention in recent years because its discriminatory nature is so obvious: at the airport, one can actually see the Arab families being taken to a separate security check. Yet racial profiling is more than just a security technique which aims to make boarding more pleasant for non-Arab passengers. It is – especially under the Netanyahu governments – a national policy.

Recently, Israel has engaged in a dialogue with the American administration in an attempt to be made part of the visa waiver program. The effort reached a dead end because the Israelis wanted to reserve the right to refuse entry to “certain U.S. citizens” – i.e. Muslims – beyond the right to individual refusal which both countries will obviously keep. It even got to the point that AIPAC lobbied Congress to agree to discrimination against its own citizens by a foreign country, with no success.

Last week, the government and Knesset extended the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which prevents Palestinian citizens of Israel married to non-citizen Palestinians from living with their spouses in Israel. The law was described as a security measure, but as statements made during the time that the bill was initiated revealed, its real goal was demographic – namely, reducing the number of Palestinians who are entitled to Israeli citizenship, or are even allowed to live in Israel as residents.

In both cases, the Ben-Gurion Airport procedures were imitated in totally different fields. The Citizenship Law targets Palestinian citizens as a group: from now on, if they wish to marry a non-citizen (a member of their own community!) they are forced to live in their partner’s country. Imagine the outcry that would result from a policy demanding that every American Jew who marries a Jew from another country must leave the U.S. in order to live with his spouse – due to a national policy intended to limit the number of Jewish citizens and residents in the country – and you can understand the horror of a bill which was supported by almost all Jewish parties, including most members of the Labor Party.

The Citizenship Law stands out, but it doesn’t stand alone. One of the worst laws passed by the previous Knesset was also aimed specifically against the Palestinian minority. The so-called Nakba Law allows the finance minister to withdraw government support from institutions – including Palestinian ones – that commemorate the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. Another successful piece of legislation directed against the Arab minority allowed small Jewish settlements in the north and south of Israel to reject candidates based on their ethnicity.

Palestinians, it bears repeating, make up 20 percent of the Israeli population – higher than the percentage of African Americans in the U.S. The recent vote over the Citizenship Law reveals that the current Knesset will not change the national policy of racial profiling. In fact, there is already an initiative to revive a failed bill from last year, which gives a higher status to the “Jewishness” of the state over its democratic nature. The bill states, for example, that the government will make efforts to build new housing projects for Jews, but not for members of other ethnic groups or nationalities. Despite heavy criticism of the bill in the past, it was made part of the coalition agreement between the Likud and the Jewish Home Party.

Adalah – the Legal Center for the Arab Minority Rights in Israel, estimates that there are 55 laws that discriminate against Palestinians. These shouldn’t be confused with practices of discrimination, which are present in Israel but can be found in other societies as well. In fact, while there some positive developments in policies towards the Arab minority (along with deterioration in other fields), the number of discriminatory laws is on the rise.

Palestinian citizens have many rights in Israel – especially compared with Palestinians under occupation – but they are not equal citizens. Even if Israel is forced to end the occupation, only by removing all discriminatory elements from its legal system and adopting a “state of all its citizens” model can it move toward becoming a truly democratic state, rather than a democracy of racial profiling.

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    1. In the Citizenship Law Case, the Chief Justice, writing for the 7-6 majority, said that democracy should not lead to “national suicide,” the context being demographic. A dissent said something like the Chief was being hysterical. In any case, you already have the seed of “Jewish First” in your jurisprudence. I think the Citizenship Law case will go down historically as your Plessy v Ferguson. I have no doubt Citizenship Law is contrary to your Declaration of Independence, and still think your best hope is to assert the Declaration to be a meta-constitutional document.

      Citizenship Law nicely shows that racial fear is not security fear. Bank resident Palestinian spouces could be delayed a year or more in security checks. The real issue is–not being Jewish, they might, just might, be a danger. This powerful logic was too much for the High Court to overturn, implicitly nodding to Knesset Supremacy.

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    2. Arieh

      Only Israel is expected to pretend that life goes on as normal in times of war.

      Other western democracies including America, gave themselves permission to worry about the majority of their citizens in times of war.


      “German American Internment refers to the detention of German and German-American citizens in the United States during World War I and World War II”

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      • You want to intern Palestinian Israeli citizens?

        Don’t forgett he Japanese Amercians interned. This was done even though several generals thought it unnecessary, as Japan was in no danger of attacking the Pacific coast. FDR, I’ve read, decided not to buck Pacific Home Command (or whatnot) so as to avoid antagonizing (some of) the military; he decided overruling the decision was not worth the political cost.

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        • Kolumn9

          I don’t want to intern Arab Israelis but I do want an acknowledgement from someone on the left that while we are at war with the Arabs there is a higher chance of a security threat from an Arab than from a Jew.

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          • WW II American Japanese were not allowed to serve in the Pacific theater, but did, some with great valor, in Europe. The reason was as you give. If you alienate your Arab citizens you can expect some ground for the emergence of traitors. Your cure can produce more of your disease. A zero risk attitude will leave you worse in the long term. One must try to believe in and administer individual assessments.

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          • Kolumn9

            Brilliant idea. Let’s let our kids get blown up on buses because you believe that nationalist movements can be cured by pretending they don’t exist.

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    3. Kolumn9

      Goldberg is entitled to easier processing in the airport because he is extremely unlikely to walk into a coffee shop and blow himself up. It has nothing to do with being Jewish. He can be a Buddhist or a Hindu and the classification would be the same. Profiling is done because it makes sense and there is nothing racist about accepting the reality in which the odds of a British Jew blowing himself up in a coffee shop in order to kill Israeli Jews in Tel Aviv are zero, while the odds of a British Muslim walking into a bar in order to blow himself up and murder Israeli Jews in Tel Aviv are significantly greater than zero as the act has in fact already occurred.

      The citizenship law is designed to limit the number of wives bought by Israeli Arab husbands from the West Bank and Gaza. Its goal is partially demographic and partially based on security. There have been numerous occasions of Palestinians given Israeli citizenship that participated in terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Additionally given the size of the phenomenon in the 1990s it does appear from the side that ‘family reunification’ was used as a means of rapidly growing the Israeli Arab population relative to the Israeli Jewish population. Given the inherent distaste expressed by the elected representatives of Israeli Arabs for the state of Israel it isn’t very hard to argue that an increase in the Arab population is a long-term threat to Israel. This is before taking into account that the most extreme forces in Israeli Arab society don’t vote in elections because they reject the state of Israel as an institution and not just any of its laws.

      Notice that Israeli laws of this nature are not unique. Denmark for example which has a much smaller Muslim population passed several laws to limit family reunification because it was leading to forced/arranged marriages and a very fast growth in the Muslim population which led to cultural conflicts with the native Danish population. A similar law exists in Britain that puts an age limit on those eligible for entry to the country on the basis of family reunification.

      Israel will continue its current policies while the Arab minority continues dreaming of overturning its existence.

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      • 1) The security apparatus could keep spouces out for a year or two for (supposed) venting, with no complaints by your courts. There is no evidence that secuirty would be an issue.

        2) Part of your citizenry cannot be a demographic threat and remain long term citizens; they will be demoted to “mitic” status. By definition, citizens as a class cannot be threats. Rather, your logic is a recipe for generating greater differential between Jews and Arabs as citizens. And, in any case, your nonworking Ultra Orthodox pose a significant demographic threat to your economy–all through State policy.

        If by “Jewish” you mean insured free ingress of Jews into Israel, I believe Jewishness sound. If, however, you mean charging non Jewish citizens with demographic costs–you invite a South African hell. America lasted about 80 years with de jure Jim Crow; I think you have less time than that.

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        • Kolumn9

          1) It isn’t just the spouses themselves participating in acts of terror. It is a problem of importing people who have been raised on a diet of hating Jews and Israel. One year or two isn’t going to test anything.

          2) What generates differential between Jews and Arabs is the persistent Arab desire to destroy the state and throw out the Jews. This is also not something new so it isn’t like you discovered America. The Ultra Orthodox are being dealt with right now and they are not a security threat in the first place.

          By “Jewish” I mean that the state is called Israel, the calendar is set according to Jewish holidays, the symbols are Jewish, the main language is Hebrew and the majority of the population is Jewish. The free ingress of Jews is a result of the existence of a state that has all the properties I listed above, not something that can in any way stand on its own.

          Non-Arab non-Jewish citizens carry no demographic costs, but Israel is still in a state of conflict with the Arab world so the Arab citizens are unfortunately part of that conflict.

          If amongst the Israeli Arabs rise leaders like MLK or Mandela who are truly interested in being full partners I don’t think that there will be much opposition. The Palestinians will never be allowed in, but Israeli Arabs are already here, they work with us, they live with us, they study with us. If Israeli Arabs choose to become full partners to Jews in Israel there isn’t going to be much of an opposition to their inclusion in all sectors of life. In practice the change would only be one of perception not reality since they are already involved in all sectors of life.

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          • The spouces want to live their lives together, not push every Jew into the sea; and the spouces are the one’s admitted, or would be.

            You constantly over generalize to “all Arabs.” You refrain from admitting any State abuses towards non Jews, and ignore posts documenting these in the Bank. And you exhibit significant anger towards those you feel compelled to answer in comments.

            I did not ask for this. But I can stop it by refraining from comment. Control the world. It is yours.

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          • Kolumn9

            The comment you responded to was very civil so your reply was misplaced.

            The challenge that XYZ posted elsewhere that I believe still stands seems appropriate here. We are told to avoid generalizations and that is fine, but I do insist that you provide me any sizable group in Arab society (any Arab country) willing to explicitly declare that it is willing to live in peace with a Jewish State of Israel. The ‘peaceful’ approach on the Arab side is to declare that they are willing to accept an entity with a Jewish minority whose rights are protected as long as it doesn’t have any actual power. This is of course after filling up the country with people who literally have been brought up on the idea that killing Jews (civilians and military) is a wonderful adventure filled with honor and satisfaction and who are supported in this belief by their societies (like the 2/3rds of Jordanian parliament members who look up to and wish to release the murderer of seven Jewish girls) and Islamic scholars (like Qardawi – the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood – for example who thinks that blowing up Israeli children on buses is just fine and dandy). Yes, this is me generalizing. Prove me wrong.

            Have a wonderful life. How can it be any different since you make up your own fictional world and live in it?

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    4. Ted

      “while we are at war with the Arabs” !!!
      Sad but hilarious.
      The Zionist entity is not at war with the Arabs.
      It is facing a resistance by the indigenous Palestinian people as it steals their land and tries to displace and dispose them.
      This is the nature of all colonial-settler states throughout history.

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      • Kolumn9

        Israel is in a state of war with a large number of Arab states along with the Palestinians. Israeli Arabs have taken part in hostilities by carrying out attacks inside Israel against Israeli civilians.

        You don’t actually dispute any of these points. You just argue that Israel is in the wrong and that’s fine and nonetheless Israel must take steps to defend its civilians because the war is very much real and the buses that blew up were very much real and the rockets that are shot from Gaza and the Sinai are very much real.

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    5. Vadim

      1. According to your reasoning it is better to “harass” *everyone* in the airport so that people will not feel discriminated? That sound like “If we’ll kill all the rich people, there would be no poor people”. I see no problem with profiling that makes sense. There’s a very nice guy I know that looks incredibly menacing and whenever he’s at an Airport he get *LOTS* of attention from the security personnel. That’s their job…

      2. It’s nice to know that while my comments sometimes get deleted, comments about the “Zionist Entity” which look like they have been copy-pasted from the Hamas web site and contribute nothing to the discussion get posted.

      3. Regarding the Nakba Law – please don’t continue the misinformation. The link you provide is accurate but your description is not. There’s *nothing* preventing anyone from commemorate anything. The law just states the obvious – the state does not wish to finance institutions that Commemorate Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning. You are welcome to speak about the “Nakhba” as much as you like – just pick another date or put it in the right context.

      4. Regarding the right of settlements to decide who they wish to enter – this is a complex issue. The desire to live in a homogeneous place, with people who are like me – is very natural. You don’t have that right when you live in a city, but small communities (Arab, Jewish, religious, secular and whatever) should have that right. By the way, how many Jews live in Arab neighborhoods? Almost none. There have been attempts – they all ended violently.

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      • I did not delete your comments. There are hiccups in the system. If your comments are missing again, drop me a line and I will look into it.

        To be sure, I don’t accept the term “Zionist Entity” (but I don’t delete comments who use it).

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim


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