The “nation-state” basic law passed in the Israeli parliament last year was denounced widely in the West. The law states that Israel does not belong to all its citizens, but is instead the “the Nation-State of the Jewish people”. The text further stipulates that the “right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
The drafters of the law made it crystal clear that Israel’s Palestinian citizens – some 20 per cent of the population within the territories Israel occupied in 1948 – are not equal citizens; instead, they are colonial subjects.
Due to the fact that this new law, which has constitutional status, made the racism of Israel so explicit, it was quite widely opposed in the West. The Guardian in its editorial on the subject concluded that “The new law won’t help – it amplifies rather than counteracts Israeli democracy’s worst tendencies.”
Even American liberal Zionists opposed the law, if on narrow terms. Not so much because of its fundamentally racist nature but because, as one of them put it, “it will have a negative effect on Israel.”
The liberals are wrong: the Nation-State Law has not made Israel a fundamentally more racist state. As many contributors to MEMO’s conference on the Palestinian citizens of Israel argued last weekend, the real effect of the law has been to enshrine constitutionally the anti-Palestinian racism already deeply embedded within Israeli law and practice. It merely confirms the state’s lifelong racist nature.
Palestinian American Professor Joseph Massad made it clear in his keynote speech that the Zionist movement and the Israeli state have always been deeply opposed to democracy and equality. In just thirty minutes, Massad provided an incisive overview of key historical events that proved this, from the first Zionist colonies in Palestine in the 1880s, right up until the present day and this new law.
For example, after World War One, the British briefly entertained the idea of handing part of the responsibility for the occupation of Palestine to the USA. The World Zionist Organisation, he pointed out, “objected vehemently and immediately to US involvement, fearing that democracy might be imposed in Palestine.”
In their statement at the time, the Zionist body explained it like this: “Democracy in America too commonly means majority rule without regard to diversity of types or stages of civilisation… but if the American idea were applied as an American administration might apply it to Palestine what would happen? The numerical majority in Palestine today is Arab, not Jewish… the majority that would rule would be the Arab majority.”
The concept of armed removal of the Palestinian Arab majority from the country in order to make way for a new, violently-gerrymandered Jewish majority — “transfer” was and remains the common euphemism — was the consensus across the entire Zionist movement. While the Revisionist, right-wing side of Zionism was more open about its intentions, the “left-wing”, supposedly socialist leaders of Zionism, span deceptive fairy tales about the Arabs leaving of their own accord.
However, left-wing Zionists were never opposed to their own violence. On the contrary, it was Labor Zionism that led and executed the ethnic cleansing operations of 1947-49. As its leader, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, made clear in the 1930s: “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.”
Israel, therefore, has never really been a democracy for all of its citizens, and the nation-state law is only making clear to a wider audience what has long been apparent to anybody who pays close attention to the actual laws and practices of Israel against the Palestinians: Israel is an apartheid state.
Criticism in Western establishment circles of the law is not motivated by principled opposition to its racism or by revulsion at its inherent injustices. It is instead driven by the fact that the law lays those inequalities bare to the world.
The same dynamics were at play when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in March that Israel is “not a state of all its citizens.” The liberal Zionists wailed that this was a “betrayal” of the founding principles of Israel.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Netanyahu was simply stating the facts. Israel has always been a state for the Jews alone and has never been a state of all its citizens.
For that reason alone, if justice, equality, and freedom are truly going to reign between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, the Zionist apartheid system must be brought to an end.