The Israeli Supreme Court regrettably confirmed last Sunday that in Israel, security concerns justify all manner of anti-democratic, racist policies against its Arab population. Israeli Arabs must endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in their capacity as second class citizens in this erstwhile democracy. This week the nation’s supreme judicial tribunal ratified yet another outrage directed against it’s largest minority group. No longer can families in which one spouse is an Israeli citizen and one is Palestinian remain living in Israel. Henceforth, the latter will be deported without regard to the family hardship this will entail, breaking up families which have lived in the country for decades. Haaretz reports:
The law states that only Palestinian women over the age of 25 and men over 35 are eligible to join their families in Israel and eventually receive citizenship. Critics have slammed it as racist and discriminatory, and Amnesty International has called for its repeal.
Justices on opposite sides of the debate had an interesting colloquy:
Cheshin wrote for the majority that Israel has every right to keep out members of an enemy state.
“Israel is not a utopia,” he wrote. “It is in the midst of a major conflict with the Palestinians, and this armed conflict is like a war. And a state in the midst of a combat situation with another state is allowed to ban the entry of residents of the enemy state into its territory.”
Barak, however, rejected the argument that security trumps all: “The ends do not justify the means, because security does not reign supreme; because the proper means of increasing security do not justify serious damage to the lives of many thousands of Israeli citizens.
Democracy does not impose a sweeping ban, thereby cutting off its citizens from their partners and not allowing them to live a family life … It does not give its citizens the option of living in it without their partners or leaving the country … Democracy cedes a certain amount of security in order to obtain an immeasurably greater amount of family life and equality.”
The law confirmed here by the Court is an outrageous affront not only to Israeli Arabs, but to all Israelis for whom human rights and democratic values are important. Israel cannot survive as a mere security state which allows such interests to run roughshod over liberty and freedom. Besides, in weighing the possibility that perhaps one in a million of these Palestinian residents might participate in a terrorist attack against Israel, the latter has allowed such a remote possibility to trump reason, common sense and any notion of common decency.
Haaretz’s editorial roundly condemns the decision noting that Israel places itself outside of the international consensus regarding minority rights:
…Not one single Western country discriminates against some of its citizens by passing laws that apply only to them, and that impose limits only on their choice of a partner with whom they can live in their homeland.
It is difficult to accept the argument that the amendment to the Citizenship Law, which won the Supreme Court’s approbation yesterday, comes in response to a genuine security need. It is easier to accept the skeptical position of Justice Ayala Procaccia, who wrote that in light of the facts before her, she doubted whether the security explanation is the only one behind the law. The facts presented by the security establishment do not explain the law, since out of the tens of thousands who have become Israeli citizens since 1967 in the framework of family unification, only 26 have been questioned on suspicion of abetting terrorism.
That’s 26 questioned about links to terror. And probably none who ever committed an act of terror or came close to doing so. This law is a remedy without a cause. Though one can say that the true cause is out and out racism. In her remarks above, the justice was alluding to an unspoken motive for the law–to stem the tidal wave of Israeli Arab population growth which stands to endanger the Jewish majority if it remains “unchecked.” Many Israeli Jews, even those with moderate views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict see the Arab minority as a “fifth column” in their midst. This is the reason why a current Israeli poll indicates 62% support the idea of “population transfer” of the Arabs, that is forced removal of Israeli Arabs from land they have lived on for generations.
All I can say is that Israel hasn’t even begun to face up to its race problem. It’s taken our country decades to begin to do so and we’ve perhaps reached the end of the beginning of our journey in addressing these inequities. Israel has barely budged from the beginning of the beginning, if this court decision is any reflection of societal attitudes.
I am delighted to report that subsequent developments in Israel indicate that Chief Justice Barak feels he has the court votes needed to overturn the Citizenship Law should the Knesset, as Justice Minister Haim Ramon proposes, attempt to permanently ratify the racist provisions within it. That’s because one of the justices who voted to ratify the law did so only because it will only last another two months (after which it will have to be extended by the Knesset). This justice signaled that should the law be extended, he would vote against it. Most observers believe the Knesset will have to amend this Law to address the inequities which the recent decision ratified.