The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has enshrined decades of apartheid policy, voting 62-55 for the Jewish Nation State Bill. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gloated that it was “a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel”.
He is not wrong. The lie peddled by Zionists and their supporters that Israel is a model of democracy rather than a discriminatory, racist oppressor state has been exposed once and for all.
The bill codifies within Israel’s Basic Laws (the country’s de facto constitution) that Israel is the “national home of the Jewish people” and that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” – denying Palestinians and other non-Jews such a right.
It strips Arabic of its former status as an officially recognised language of the state, and declares Jerusalem – in violation of international law – the capital of Israel. It also legalises segregated Jewish-only communities and townships. “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”, it reads.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has used both legal discrimination and military force to ethnically cleanse and oppress the indigenous Palestinian population, imposing an apartheid system inside both the Zionist state and the Palestinian territories seized in 1967.
Adalah: the Centre for the Arab Minority in Israel notes 65 discriminatory laws in Israel, which ensure the second class status of 1.8 million Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens. The laws cover such things as land ownership, employment, housing, education, culture, marriage and citizenship.
The Jewish Nation State law does more than simply reaffirm discrimination. It enshrines discrimination as a “constitutional value” – allowing Israel to continue and extend its oppression of Palestinians. According to Adalah, the new law will entrench “the privileges enjoyed by Jewish citizens, while simultaneously anchoring discrimination against Palestinian citizens and legitimising exclusion, racism, and systemic inequality”.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Avi Dichter, originally introduced it in 2011. After its passing, Dichter – an anti-Arab racist and former head of Israel’s secret police responsible for Shin Bet’s program of extrajudicial murders – clarified its purpose: “We are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizen[s]”.
Dichter’s declaration cuts to the heart of Zionism since its inception: the so-called Palestinian demographic threat. An inherently racist and dehumanising concept, it considers the growth of the Palestinian population as a “ticking time bomb” and existential threat to the Zionist state.
Prior to the establishment of Israel, the primary concern of Zionism was to gain control of the Palestinian homeland, while ensuring that the smallest number of Palestinian Arabs (who made up the overwhelmingly majority of the population) remained.
After creating a Jewish majority by ethnically cleansing more than 500 villages and forcing more than 750,000 Palestinians into exile in 1948, the Zionist state’s primary concern shifted to the repression of the 150,000 Palestinians left inside the newly formed state and ensuring that they remained an ethnic minority with no national rights.
In 1967, Israel extended its regime of oppression and repression to another 1.5 to 2 million Palestinians when it illegally occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Today, the Palestinian population inside Israel, occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza is about the same as the number of Jewish citizens of Israel.
Because it is an expansionist settler-colonial state, this presents a “demographic dilemma” not only inside Israel. There is a long-held Zionist aspiration to annex the territories seized in 1967 – an aspiration reiterated by the central committee of Netanyahu’s Likud Party on the last day of 2017. In a unanimous vote, the committee called for annexation of the West Bank and for the Likud leadership to work toward “unhindered construction” of settlements and the extension of “Israeli law and sovereignty”.
Netanyahu is emboldened by the ascension of Donald Trump, whose brand of anti-Muslim ethno-nationalism entirely fits with Likud’s hard right Zionist desire to be rid of the “Palestinian problem”.
Israel has for decades created “facts on the ground” in illegal colonies in the West Bank. But the formal annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would mean the Zionist state would have to contend with a Palestinian demand for full equality.
The Jewish Nation State law therefore has been passed not only to prevent the creation of a bi-national state, enshrining apartheid within Israel. It has been passed also with an eye to ensuring that any expanded Israeli state will privilege the rights of Jewish citizens above those of any Palestinians and other non-Jews.