Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not an Apartheid State? Bennett will take care of it.

The Batsheva Dance Company went to New Zealand, for a performance reflecting the decades long artistic work of its director, the well known choreographer  Ohad Naharin. But even there, on the other side of the world, the dancers could not escape the political problems of this country. Outside the St. James Theatre in Wellington were waiting for them dozens of angry protesters, who accused Bat Sheva of “whitewashing”, of presenting a nice  face for the State of Israel, hiding the violation of the Human Rights of Palestinians.

The protest organizer was John Minto, known from the struggle against the South Africa apartheid regime - when he and his fellows disrupted rugby matches where South African teams came to play in New Zealand. In this week's demonstration Minto claimed that Israel, too, is an apartheid state, since "Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship are not regarded as nationals of Israel. To be a national of Israel, you have to be Jewish, and so you have a whole network of laws that follow through from that and which actually discriminate against Arab Israelis.''

A counter-demonstration was held by members of the local Jewish community. Community representative David Schwartz objected to Minto’s words, saying that "Israel is a democratic state where all the citizens have equal rights under the law”, firmly asserting that there are no laws discriminating against Arab Israelis and even making the accusation that Minto and his fellows were themselves motivated by racism in voicing their accusations of Israel.

From Jerusalem, capital of Israel, Minister Naftali Bennett added his voice on that same day to the fierce debate taking place in Wellington, capital of New Zealand. The voice of Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party and a senior minister in the Netanyahu cabinet, was loud and clear: "We must show zero tolerance to the national aspirations of Israeli Arabs. We must mark out the Jewish character of the state, enact a law which will set out firmly the identity of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Israel has numerous laws defending all kind of rights”, continued the minister, “but there is no law on the basic identity of the state itself. Some people here dream of making us into something like Sweden, but we are not Sweden.”   The Economy Minister  especially attacked former  Supreme  Court President  Aharon Barak, accusing him and his fellow judges of  “consistently striving to overturn the balance and strip the State of its Jewish significance” and of “enacting a Civic Revolution at the expense of our Jewishness”.  In his view, such landmark verdicts as the Ka’adan Ruling should be overturned, Judaization should no longer be the obscene concept into which the  Supreme Court turned it. Rather, Judaization should be elevated and enshrined as a supreme constitutional principle of the Jewish state.

It may be worthwhile recapitulating the Supreme Court’s Ka’adan Ruling - for the sake of those who don’t remember. More than twenty years ago, Adel and Iman Ka'adan, a successful young couple residing in Baka al-Garbiya, sought to build a house for themselves and their children in Katzir, a new community being established nearby where they could expect a higher quality of life which is not available in crowded and impoverished Baka al-Garbiya. But their request to purchase a plot of land at Katzir was rejected out of hand. The reasons were stated quite clearly and explicitly: the Ka’adan are Arabs, while the community or Katzir was being built on land which the State of Israel had allocated to the Jewish Agency which – being a purely Jewish national organization - was involved with interests of Jews  and engaged in creating communities open to Jews only.

The Ka'adans contacted ACRI (Civil Rights Association) and with its help appealed to the Supreme Court . In the course of principled deliberations, lasting some five years, officials of the State and the Jewish Agency expressly informed the court that establishment of communities intended for Jews only was inherent in the implementation of Zionism, and so it has been since the first Zionist pioneers arrived here. Chief Justice Aharon Barak made ​​great efforts to avoid a conclusive judicial ruling on the fundamental issue, and provide a personal solution to the Ka'adans’ problem by finding them a plot of land "outside the fence" , i.e. outside the land designated for the community of  Katzir. However, all attempts to find a compromise failed, and in March 2000 the counrt rendered a principled ruling. .

Chief Justice Barak wrote that the decision to accept the Ka'adans ' appeal had been the hardest decision of his life, but there was no escaping it. "Precisely because the state of Israel is a Jewish state, it must uphold equality as a supreme moral value. Allowing a community for Jews only is a clear violation of the law. The principle of Israel being a Jewish and democratic state does in no way suggest that the State may effect discrimination between its citizens.”

 “The State is the State of the Jews; the regime which exists in it is an enlightened democracy, which grants equal rights to all citizens, Jews and non –Jews alike. There is therefore no contradiction between the principle ​​of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and the absolute equality among all its citizens. On the contrary: equal rights for everybody in Israel, whatever their religion or ethnicity, is directly from the basic moral values ​​of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

End of the story ? Not precisely. The Supreme Court referred the Ka'adans to the admissions committee of the Katzir community and forbade it to use their being Arabs as a direct or indirect criterion for rejection. Whereupon the admissions committee promptly rejected them again, this time not because they were Arabs but just because they “did not fit ." ACRI lodged a second Supreme Court appeal, and in 2004 the government’s Lands Administration announced that Katzir has grown in size and no longer needed an Admissions Committee, and therefore the Ka'adans would be assigned a family plot.

In August 2007, over ten years after they had embarked on their struggle, the Ka'adans at last could start building their home in Katzir. But the path opened with such effort did not long remain open for the use of others. In March 2011, the Knesset passed the Admissions Committee Law, which allows the government to allocate land for the establishment of "Community Locations", where people can come to live only if approved by an Admissions Committee – and such Admissions Committees are empowered to reject any applicant which in their judgement “does not fit the community’s social fabric”.

For Minister Naftali Bennett this is not enough. He wants to turn the clock back to the period before the Ka’adan Ruling. His Israel will not be like Sweden, nor like any other democratic country in Europe or North America (or in New Zealand) . In the State of Israel envisioned by Naftali Bennett, the statutory basic constitutional principle would state that it is permissible and appropriate for the state authorities to establish communities for Jews only, in order to  promote the Judaization of the Galilee and the Judaization of the Negev and the Judaization of the entire country. And what about an Arab who dares to raise his voice in protest? The minister made it clear: zero tolerance .

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State John Kerry is working hard to overcome the problem of the recognition of a Jewish state, which has become a major stumbling block in the ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a sine qua non for any agreement , while the Palestinians so far refused outright to grant any such recognition .

According to media leaks last week, some compromise solution might be found. For example, the Palestinians might agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state if they are categorically assured that this would in no way compromise the civil rights of Israeli Arabs. Perhaps, the Palestinians would eventually be able to live with such a formula. But could Bennett?