Israelis walking past a campaign poster showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and other party leaders contesting next month’s elections. AFP
For more than 100 years, South Africa’s non-whites had been subjected to inhuman laws known as the Pass Laws. Their beginning was in the mid-18th century. The natives were treated as slaves and required to carry in their person a metal badge to enter mines and work areas. Later, other pass laws were introduced to control the entry of non-whites into white areas.
As the winds of freedom blew across Asia and Africa, from the late 1940s through the 1950s and the 60s, South Africa’s downtrodden natives intensified their struggle for freedom. On March 21, 1960, in the township of Sharpeville, the Pan Africanist Congress, which had broken away from the African National Congress, organised a peaceful protest against the pass laws. But it ended up in a tragedy, with the Police killing 69 protesters. The incident known as the Sharpeville massacre led to the 1979 United Nations General Assembly resolution that calls for solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination. Since then, on March 21, member states have been marking this day as an International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The resolution emphasises that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and well-being of their societies.
As the world next Thursday observes this important day, the UN has declared this year’s theme as “mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies.”
No country can call itself a democracy if it practices racial discrimination based on a supremacist ideology. Sadly, racial discrimination still exists today. But sadder still, it exists as a state policy in Israel. The saddest part of it all is when such state policy is condoned by the United States, supposedly the world’s most vibrant democracy. Israel is the only country that still has laws such as South Africa’s apartheid era pass laws. Israel has at least 65 such laws to discriminate against its 1.8 million Arab people, who form 20 percent of the population. These laws uphold the abhorrent Jewish supremacist ideology and have reduced the Arabs and the Druze to second class citizens. As the world observed the UN Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it must be said that such discriminatory practices have no place in any civilised country worth its name.
It was only days ago that Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an Instagram message, declared that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed [in July 2018], Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and not anyone else.”
The Nation-State Law is so atrocious that it says the right to exercise national self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people.” It establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, and downgrades Arabic. It legitimises illegal Jewish settlements as a “national value” and mandates that the state will labour to promote its establishment and development.
Needless to say, the law has added to the humiliation Israel’s non-Jewish citizens suffer.
Writing to Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Wednesday, activist Amjad Iraqi says, “As a non-Jew in Israel, I cannot buy property in the vast majority of the country, and I can be barred by an admissions committee from living in a small, community town if I am not deemed ‘socially or culturally suitable’. I am unable to study Palestinian history at a state school because it is not taught, and I could put a theatre at risk of losing state funding if I promote a play describing Israel’s independence as a Nakba, or catastrophe, for the Palestinian people. If I wished to marry a Palestinian from the occupied territories, I could not bestow residency or citizenship on her so she could live with me and raise a family inside Israel; any Jew in the world, however, can fly into Ben Gurion airport and become a citizen.”
Then there are laws that restrict the Arabs from building extensions to their houses. Council permissions are rarely given to Arabs. If any went ahead with extensions, the entire house is demolished. Then there are the controversial land laws, especially the Acquisition for Public Purposes (Amendment of Provisions) Law and the Emergency Regulations (Security Zone) Law. Under these laws, the state can acquire any land for public or security purposes with or without compensation. Often the law is invoked to take Palestinian lands to build Jewish settlements -- and the victimised Palestinians often reject the compensation as a mark of protest.
Since Israel was set up in 1948, US administrations have adopted a policy of supporting the Zionist state even if it practises discriminatory laws. Thus it is no wonder when the Donald Trump administration feigns deafness to Netanyahu’s repugnant statement. Moreover, Trump counts on the Israeli lobby’s support for his reelection and also to rescue him from a calamity he may face in the Robert Mueller investigations into alleged collusion with Russia.
Even Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council was taken in the interest of Israel. Making the withdrawal announcement Nikki Haley, the then US envoy to the UN, said: “The UNHRC was a cesspool of political bias that targets Israel in particular.”
The submissive and sycophantic US stance towards Israel was recently highlighted in the controversy over Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s comments on the Israeli lobby. Omar, a Somali refugee who, along with Rashida Tlaib of Palestinian origin, became America’s first Muslims Congresswomen in January, is being accused of anti-Semitism for questioning US politician’s loyalty to Israel. In a tweet, she said: American political leaders’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”
Omar was forced to apologise, as her tweet stirred a political storm, with Trump calling for her resignation. Her own Democratic Party pondered tough action against her. Thanks to a few powerful progressive friends in the party, Omar survived a political catastrophe so early in her career. She herself came under racial attacks, with some even associating her with 9/11 terrorists.
The Ilhan Omar issue raises once again the question whether criticizing Israeli government construes anti-Semitism. French President Emmanuel Macron says ‘yes’; no, says Britain’s socialist leaning Labour Party Leader James Corbyn.
Although the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) says it is perfectly alright to criticise Israel, Macron’s bid to equate anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism is seen as a bid to stifle criticism of Israel’s excesses against its Arab citizens and the Palestinians in the occupied territories. In Britain, Corbyn courted the Israeli lobby’s resentment, for refusing to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
The stance taken by leaders like Trump and Macron will only encourage Israel to perpetrate racial discrimination, especially at a time when Israeli socialists are in disarray. The Labour Party which promoted peace with Palestinians -- is almost a spent force. Next month’s general elections are largely a contest between hardliners. With hardliners holding sway, no wonder, Netanyahu has been in office since 2009 and implementing apartheid laws. Despite the Attorney General deciding to charge him with corruption or fraud, some hardliners say Netanyahu is likely to win a fifth term because of these charges and not despite them. The hardliners are now describing him as a new Moses. In Israel, it appears that racism is the first refuge of the scoundrels.