Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Other Citizens of Israel

Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, and deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament had an op-ed published recently in the New York Times (Save your complaints; Jewish Israelis have also, in the past, contributed op-eds to the New York Times)

The opinion article argues that non-Jewish citizens of Israel are being marginalized.

I repost it here, without comment (I'm sure I'll have what to say on the thread.)

Read it after the jump

Published: October 21, 2010

TAIBEH, Israel -- Is there no limit to what the American government will accept from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman?

With Netanyahu’s backing, the Israeli cabinet voted in support of Lieberman’s loyalty oath for non-Jewish immigrants, which requires allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state” of Israel. It was as if Mexican immigrants to the United States would have to swear allegiance to a United States that is white and Protestant, while immigrants from Europe would face no such oath.

In response to an international outcry, notwithstanding silence from American officials, Netanyahu has called for an amendment that would impose the oath on all immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

But there is far more wrong with the loyalty oath than simply the original intent of applying it only to non-Jews. Swearing allegiance to an Israel that is Jewish and democratic is logically inconsistent and an attempt to relegate Palestinian citizens of Israel to inferior status.

Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise 20 percent of the population. The insistence of some Jewish leaders on the state being “Jewish” is a punch in the gut to Palestinians who for more than 60 years have struggled to achieve equal rights in Israel.

At a time when there are over 35 laws that discriminate against Palestinians, and with more working their way through the Knesset, it is long past time for Americans to ask their political leaders what their tax money is funding in Israel.

The arrogance of the Israeli prime minister’s initial demands toward a relatively small number of non-Jewish immigrants (remember that Israel actively promotes Jewish immigration while strenuously working against the return of Palestinians to stolen homes and properties) also extends to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu recently stated, “If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be prepared to convene my government and ask for an additional suspension of [settlement] construction for a limited period of time.”

This is madness. Netanyahu is suggesting that Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish because embedded in such recognition would be a Palestinian concession over the right of return.

And in exchange for what, two months of a limited freeze on settlements in the West Bank? Israel is violating international law on both sides of the equation by prohibiting the return of Palestinian refugees and by building expressly forbidden settlements.

Netanyahu’s proposals are the words of a man with no interest in advancing peace. And his concessions to Lieberman on his right flank only encourage a recent arrival here who thinks his being Jewish trumps the rights of Palestinians who have been here for centuries.

A Jewish state of Israel hurts not just refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel, but seeks to impose a narrative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that reduces the Palestinian side to a sham and raises up the Zionist account as truth.

If Israel is the Jewish state, then what right do we Palestinian interlopers have to be here at all? None. And so it should be little surprise that Lieberman is simultaneously pushing a plan to trade Palestinian citizens of Israel into a rump state in the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Lieberman should instead face a counter-demand that is pushed not just by Palestinians but by the international community. Namely, in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.

For instance, the Obama administration could insist the Israeli government allocate funds proportionately between Palestinian and Jewish citizens. Flagrant funding discrimination against Palestinians, particularly our students, sends the message that we are lesser citizens.

Eroding infrastructure in Palestinian communities is in urgent need of attention, but settlements get national resources while open sewage runs through some of our neighborhoods.

The international community could address our situation by calling on Israel to recognize us as a national minority. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress should invite Palestinian citizens of Israel to testify about the discrimination Palestinians face at the hands of this close American ally.

One reason American moral authority has fallen so far in this part of the world is that Arabs do not believe they are inferior to Jews. We are equals — or should be. And the unwillingness of the United States to push its Israeli ally to uphold the equality of all its citizens is not only a grave disappointment, but a strong reason to challenge the United States as the leader of the free world.

The United States will not be regarded as such a leader so long as it is content to back and encourage an Israeli leadership recklessly racing to enshrine the legal superiority of Jews over Palestinians.

Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.

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