on Monday, the Israeli Knesset passed a new apartheid law which seeks to divide the Palestinian community. The sponsor of the law, Yariv Levin (who is a member of Likud) outlined the apartheid nature and racist intent of the bill:
“The legislation would give separate representation and separate consideration to the Christian population, that will separate them from Muslim Arabs,” Levin told Maariv a few months ago. “It’s a historic and important step that could balance the State of Israel and connect us to the Christians, and I am careful not to refer to them as Arabs, because they are not Arabs.”
Palestinian Christians and Muslims in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories face discrimination, oppression and human rights abuses at the hands of the Israeli state.
Israeli human rights group, Adalah, has documented more than 50 laws which actively discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel - both Christian and Muslim - in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education ,state budget resources, criminal procedures, marriage, culture and much more. Some of these laws also violate the rights of Palestinians living in the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories and Palestinian refugees.
Adalah has compiled a database of the apartheid laws, which can be accessed and read - click here to view.
In her Christmas message, Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun noted the impact of Israel's occupation on all Palestinians, as well as the joint struggle of Palestinian Christians and Muslim's against Israel's human rights abuses, war crimes and occupation policies:
"Today, our little town has become even smaller due to the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, but the message of Jesus Christ remains in our hearts, overcoming with hope the despair of decades of living under a foreign occupation and being deprived of our rights".and
"Bethlehem is not a museum, nor just a wooden grotto. It is a living experience of a daily struggle for existence, for a just and lasting peace, and this is the Bethlehem we also share with the world. A Bethlehem that is a model of natural coexistence between Christians and Muslims, an example for the rest of the region".Baboun went onto noted that Bethlehem was home to thousands of Palestinian refugees, both Christian and Muslim and that all had suffered injustices at the hands of the Israeli state. Read her full statement here.
See also my earlier posts on Israel's human rights abuses and occupation of Bethlehem, here and here.
I have included below two articles explain in detail the racist nature of the new apartheid law, as well as a press release issued by PLO Executive Committee member, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, condemning the new law.
In solidarity, Kim
Israel ratified a new law that legally distinguishes between Muslim and Christian citizens of the state, Haaretz reported Monday. The bill, which easily passed by a 31-6 vote in its third and final reading, recognizes the Christian Arab population as a separate, though not national minority for the first time. The law, which expands the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in the Employment Commission by adding to it a separate Christian representative, was marketed as a way to better integrate Christians into the Israeli workforce. However, in practice, it is being carried out at the blatant expense of Muslim citizens. There are approximately 160,000 Christians living in Israel, compared with over a million Muslim citizens.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Likud MK Yariv Levin, Christians are “our natural allies, a counterbalance against the Muslims who want to destroy the state from within.” Levin, an outspoken opponent of the establishment of a Palestinian state (like other fellow MKs in Likud and the Jewish Home party) also emphasized that he refuses to call Christian citizens “Arabs.” “I’m being careful about not calling them Arabs because they aren’t Arabs,” he told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv a few weeks ago, despite the fact that the large majority of them are, in fact, Arabs, and many identify as part of the Palestinian nation.
Through the Knesset’s passing of the law, along with Levin’s candid comments, the Israeli government has made two things abundantly clear (if they weren’t already):
1. “Arab” is a bad word, and the Muslim Arab population specifically – the largest minority in the country – is made up of evil citizens intent on destroying the state, and are therefore not eligible to have equal rights.
2. Israel defines and subsequently prioritizes the rights of its citizens according to religion and ethnicity, in blatant contravention of its Declaration of Independence and the most common working assumptions of any democracy. This new law adds another chunk of evidence that Israel is an ethno-religious state with systematic, structural inequalities that work mainly to privilege the Jewish population living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
This new law has legally enshrined the de facto reality in which Muslim citizens of Israel are not entitled to equal rights, just by virtue of being born that way. This is the definition of a racist policy.
Jews sit at the top of the pyramid of religious privilege, followed by Christians and then Muslims. Of course, there are also inner-hierarchies within every sector (i.e. Russian Jews before Ethiopian Jews, urban middle class Palestinians before Bedouin in the periphery).
Such a distinction is designed to spark conflicts between minorities in a divide-and-conquer style.
Likud MK Yariv Levin’s new bill threatens to erode even further the concept of citizenship in Israel. According to the bill, Christian Arabs will have their own representatives on the advisory council mandated by the Equal Employment Opportunities Law.
Ostensibly the purpose is to ensure better representation for communities whose members have a hard time finding their place in the labor market. But Levin doesn’t conceal his true goal: “To grant separate representation and separate treatment to the Christian community, which will be distinguished from the Muslim Arabs.”
“I take pains not to call them Arabs,” Levin added in an interview with the daily Maariv, referring to Christians. According to Levin, Arabs are “Muslims who want to destroy the state from within.” The widespread support for the bill in the Knesset shows that crazy ideas like these aren’t the province of an extremist, borderline-loony MK. They’re part of the national consensus.
Christianity, like Islam and Judaism, is a religion. To be Arab refers to an ethnicity and a nationality. The new covenant between Levin and Christian Arabs will not change their Arab identity. The unfortunate distinction between “good Arabs” – Christians – and “bad Arabs” – Muslims – not only reflects ignorance and racism, it does a great injustice to members of both religions who as minorities are not treated properly by the state.
The Knesset’s test of “love of the Jewish state” empties of meaning the concept of citizenship, which does not differentiate between religion, color or gender. This test paints the Muslim minority as a single entity, in shades of hatred and suspicion. Such a distinction is designed to spark conflicts between minorities in a divide-and-conquer style that breaches international agreements that Israel has signed. It pushes Israel into the ranks of the darkest states.
Levin’s racist legislation is made possible in a Knesset in which the opposition is mute. One wonders how these silent MKs would respond if some country branded the Jews there as “people who want to destroy the state from within,” or if it distinguished between “good Jews” and “bad Jews.”
The Knesset, led by the opposition, must immediately halt legislation that crushes the country’s democratic foundations. Such legislation does not reflect love of one’s country. It’s ugly racism by nationalist zealots.