The Israeli Knesset yesterday took what most people in the rest of the world would believe to be an obscure little vote on a dreary bill governing land sales. Who cares. Well, those who don’t know or care ought to because this vote will go down as one of the more egregious racist votes in the nation’s history.
An Israeli Arab brought a case to the Israeli Supreme Court claiming he had been refused the right to buy Israeli land owned by the Jewish National Fund. The high court found in favor of the plaintiff and ruled that the State must change its policy and allow any citizen, whether Jewish or not, to buy such land. The attorney general subsequently approved such changes. The bill voted on yesterday is an attempt to do an “end around” the court ruling. It would enshrine in law the racist notion that only Jews should be able to purchase JNF land, while other Israeli citizens should not.
Remember the paeans to Israeli democracy you hear from the lips of the hoch-Zionists: “the only democracy in the Middle East,” etc., etc. You can can that now. An ethnocracy maybe, but not a democracy–especially not if this piece of crap passes on its final reading (yesterday’s vote was the first reading). Haaretz’s editorial today pretty much says it all: A Racist Jewish State:
This bill reflects an abasement of the Zionist enterprise to lows never imagined in the Declaration of Independence. Even though the Jewish National Fund purchased the lands for the Jewish people in the Diaspora, the State of Israel has already been established and these lands must now serve all its citizens.
For those living for tomorrow and not the past, the aim is to create in Israel a healthy, progressive state where the needs of the two peoples should concern the leaders and legislators. The Jewish National Fund’s land policy counters the interests of the state and cannot discriminate by law against the minority living in Israel.
What is most pathetic about the vote is that a mere 10 Jewish MKs could muster enough outrage to vote against this travesty of justice. Even Ami Ayalon, the supposed Labor Party paragon of Israeli-Palestinian understanding voted Aye. The final vote was 64-16. I know in the history of the world’s greatest legislative folly this is but one example. But for Israel it’s truly a golden one.
Speaking of golden, I love this cartoon from Haaretz. To get the joke you have to know that the Jewish National Fund (or Kerem Kayemet L’Yisrael) has blue tzedakah (pushke) boxes covered with the Star of David which are known by Jews the world over. The cartoonist has changed the color from Israeli blue to Kach yellow (also the same color as the star Nazis forced Jews to wear). And instead of an Israeli Star of David there is a Kahanist fist. Nice touch.
Those who know their American history will remember that until the 1950s it was illegal for Asian-Americans to own land in the west. Is this the model that Israel wishes to embrace?? Could you give an Israel-hater a greater gift than this? Could you give a Palestinian or Israeli Arab a stronger confirmation of their impression that Israel is irredeemably racist?? What can you do but scratch your head and say: “Huh?” Whatever were they thinking? Well, you know what they’re thinking and it ain’t pretty.
There are those of us progressive Zionists who have a different vision of Israel. But days and votes like yesterday’s make it really hard to keep what little faith you have left.
Thanks to Magnes Zionist, a terrific new blog by Jerry Haber representing a progressive Orthodox Israeli viewpoint, for first bringing this law to my attention; and to Sol Salbe for providing the Haaretz editorial and cartoon.
Ira Glunts says
Here is an article about the Ka’adan case by Tom Segev. Ka’adan apparently won his case in 1995, but as of 2002 the government had refused to enforce the court decision. If anyone knows if Ka’adan has made any progress in relocating to a Jewish neighborhood, I would be interested in learning about it.
I have copied the following quote from the Ha’aretz editorial to which you refer.
“Every day the Knesset has the option of passing laws that will advance Israel as a democratic Jewish state or turn it into a racist Jewish state.”
My question is: how is the idea of a democratic Jewish state possible in a nation with a large non-Jewish minority? To what extent does the Jewishness of the state mean that there will be inequality for its non-Jewish citizens?
At any rate, I like your passion in this piece, Richard. I hope there is a large community of “Progressive Zionists” that will support your idea of equality for all Israel’s citizens. I know that in Israel this is considered a very subversive thought.
Richard Silverstein says
This is a very tough question naturally. I’ve written about it quite a bit here mostly revolving around the Azmi Bishara case. You clearly would have to change much of the trappings of the current Israel. I would consider a new form something along the lines of Quebec in the Canadian system or the Swiss cantons. Israeli Arabs should have full equality within Israel. This should be inscribed into law along with provisions for enforcing the law. Perhaps it would mean you would need a constitution to do so (good luck on getting that). The theocratic aspects of Israel would have to go in terms of Judaism as a state religion. Or perhaps they wouldn’t have to go as long as Islam would be considered co-equal. The Law of Return should be amended (though not entirely scrapped) just as an Israeli Arab Right of Return should be considered (though similarly it should not be a wholesale right as many One-Staters propose). Anyway, those are a few preliminary ideas.
Dan Fleshler says
I’m delighted that at least three blogs are now trying drum up attention to this travesty. I was also tipped off by Jerry Haber and knew that “Realistic Dove” had to weigh in. There is a certain amount of confusion over whether JNF is private or semi-private and what it’s relationship is to state institutions. This was clarified for me by Ken Bob, as explained in the following, and your readers might find it useful:
What may be most appalling about this bill are the comments in reaction to the coverage in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post. Haaretz has a good editorial today. The brutal, unthinking, witless tribalism of many respondents is a sad commentary on what Israel has become, or perhaps what it always was.
There is, as I’m sure you know, an official ‘Task Force on Israelis Arabs” that the organized American Jewish communuity, to its credit, has set up to make people more aware of the inequality and racism that afflicts one out of five Israelis. it includes the United jewish Communities, the UJA-Federation of New York City and a lot of other establishment groups, as well as lefty organizations like Ameinu and Givat Haviva. It will be interesting to see if they take a stand on this matter.
Sol Salbe says
In answer to Ira;s Question regarding Dr Ka;adan and his family. According to Friday’s Hebrew Haaretz haaretz.co.il/hasite/pages/ShArtPE.jhtml?itemNo=884230&contrassID=2&subContrassID=21&sbSubContrassID=0
Dr Ka’adan has recently completed obtaining the last building permit from the authoroties. In about a fortnight he hopes to commence building with a grandiose ceremony.
Jeanne Capozzoli says
Richard, although you were once my student in 1967, you have been my teacher for the past 40 years. Your sense of justice (and your brilliance) has not diminished. I recently had lunch in the same New City shopping area where all of us celebrated Israel’s victory in the 6 Day War. Little did we know that Israel would break our hearts with the occupation and settlements etc. and now racist legislation such as this. My lunch friend (who is Jewish) brought up her great disappointment with Israel, and I told her how my one night out with students was a joyful celebration of Israel 40 years ago in this same little shopping plaza. By the way, when you 6 teenagers discovered that I had never eaten a bagel (there were no bagels in South Dakota), one of you jumped up, ran to the bagel store and came back with a bag of bagels. I am still enjoying bagels; Israel is another story. I should not say Israel, rather the right wing governments of Israel — as I know that there are significant numbers of Israelis who are also broken hearted at what Israel has become. Let us hope that someday-very soon-wiser heads will prevail. However, racist legislation such as this is not hopeful.
Ira Glunts says
Thanks for the link.
John Yorke says
So, the ever present and all-pervading issue of land and its ownership presents itself yet again. It seems it is now within the gift of the Israeli Knesset to determine who is and who is not entitled to such ownership. Of course, in a country that is almost exactly the size of Wales – the smallest principality here in the UK – the land itself does hold and retain this emotive and historic linkage to a great many things.
Well, if so much importance is attached to it, then why not allow that single and supreme circumstance to become the deciding factor in this ongoing saga?
In the end, the cause of all this conflict may contain within itself its own internal remedy.
Rafael V. Rabinovich says
Why on Earth would anyone see the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael’s decision to sell land only to Jews as “racist”?
First of all, Jews are not a race, nor are Gentiles a single, distinguishable race.
Second, it is apaling that not a word is said regarding the Arab’s death penalty on any of their own who decides to sell to Jews (death penalty for Jews selling to Arabs is non existant!). Yet, when the Jewish National Fund acts in a way absolutely necessary to save the Jewish State and the Jewish Land from becoming lost to an Arab entity who’s aim, who’s raison de etre, is precisely to eliminate all trace of Jewish belonging to the Land of Israel.
Calling the KKL’s decision “racist” is indeed a thoughless insult.
It would be enlightening for the author of that note to review the very foundations of the KKL, and what even today defines it as an institution.
Richard Silverstein says
It’s important to know the thoughts of people like Mr. Rabinovich so we can understand the perspective of the thoughtless racists who man the ranks of Israel’s nationalist right-wing. So thanks for letting us see the ugly underbelly of Israeli racism.
And as you’ve celebrated the death from cancer of Tanya Reinhart in a comment I’ve deleted, you’re banned from this site. Try coming back when you can muster enough decency to be a human being instead of a low down cur of a man.
Rafael V. Rabinovich says
Since when is such a lowly ad-hominem attack a response to the argument I presented?
Richard Silverstein says
Ad hominem attack? Really. What exactly in my attack was ad hominem? Anyone who celebrates the death of someone who dies a slow death by cancer epitomizes a low down cur of a man. If you don’t like it, tough luck. Next time, think twice before you show your vicious side in public.