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From the Hebrew Press

Internal Criticism of Racism Would Be Called "Anti-Semitic" Outside Israel

By Dr. Israel Shahak
Washington Report, August/September 1991, Page 23

For more than 200 years Jews have been demanding equality in every country in which they happened to live, with the notable exception of Israel, the Jewish state. Israel has always based its institutions on the denial of equality to non-Jews. This principle derives from the tenets of Zionism which, from its very inception, long before the establishment of Israel, staunchly opposed equality for non-Jews.

Recently, however, for the first time in Israel's history, there are voices warning about the consequences of unequal treatment of non-Jewish citizens of Israel. Remarkably, this opposition has emerged more from the center of the political spectrum than from the Zionist left.

By voicing misgivings about fundamental inequalities in the Jewish state, Israeli Jews have proven to be far more realistic than members of the organized Diasporas, including their most prestigious and supposedly liberal publications. The same holds true in discussions about repression and atrocities in the occupied territories, and about the nature of the Jewish Orthodoxy. Much of what is written in Israel's prestigious and large-circulation Hebrew papers would be characterized elsewhere as "anti-Semitism" by all of organized Jewry and its allies.

The situation with regard to land privately owned by Israeli Arab citizens and located on Israel's territory was described by Gabi Baron under the title "The Mysterious Redeeming of Land. " His article in the April 24, 1990 financial supplement of Yediot Ahronot covered the " Heimanuta, " a branch company of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which in itself is an offshoot of the World Zionist Movement.

The very terms "redeeming" or "redemption" [ge'ula] are borrowed from religion. In Judaism, they refer to the salvation of an individual soul, and also to the salvation of the Jewish people, to be reached when the Messiah comes and the Jews rule over the whole world. Consequently, the expression "unredeemed" carries a strong connotation of impurity and taint.

Misuse of these terms for quite mundane purposes can be dangerous, in the same way as the misuse of sacred Islamic terms by secular Arab chauvinists, like Saddam Hussain, can be dangerous. As taught to children

in Israel's Jewish schools, the "Redemption of Land" doctrine simply states that if a plot of land is owned either collectively or individually by Jews, it is "redeemed. " If not it is "unredeemed. " It follows that "to re deem land, " i.e. to transfer it from non-Jewish to Jewish ownership, is a foremost national obligation, whereas not to do so is a calamity to be averted.

Israel has always based its institutions on the denial of equality to non-Jews.

In his article, Baron quotes JNF Land Development Director Avraham Hilleli as saying "the Jewish principle" dictates that "the JNF lands should be allocated for the exclusive use of the Jews. " Heimanuta directors are quoted as adding that their agency seeks to acquire "every piece of land that is not yet owned by the Jews."

Like its parent body the JNF, the Heimanuta is now being financed from various government funds (some of them disclosed by Baron) which are not listed in the annual government budget. This money is used by the Heimanuta both for " redeeming " the property of non-Jewish owners by purchasing it; or, apparently more often, for buying up Jewish property said to have been offered for sale to non-Jews. Heimanuta even pays exorbitant prices for such property, only in order to prevent it from falling into non-Jewish hands. Presumably, the Shabak (Israel's internal security police) and other government agencies report such prospective sales to Heimanuta. Each such land offering is then duly reported in the press, with the purpose of producing a wave of patriotic indignation. Some 10 or 15 years ago, the public indignation usually sufficed to avert a sale. But in the past decade some Jews were undeterred by journalistic indignation and even being branded as "traitors," as they defied the folklore that defined their actions as "unredeeming" already "redeemed" land.

Nahum Barnea, in Yediot Ahronot of May 11, 1990, reported how Heimanuta also "secretly subsidizes apartments in Upper Nazareth for their Jewish tenants, so as to rule out Israeli Arabs from competing for them." Being illegal, such transactions assume the form of fictitious subletting. Since both Baron and Barnea stress the secrecy surrounding the operations of this company that they have described, one can surmise that it is involved in other subterranean activities as well.

Protests against such actions, couched in the strongest terms, have appeared periodically in the Hebrew press since about 1985. In the Feb. 10, 1991 Haaretz, under the headline "An Amazing Resemblance to South Africa, " Professor Uzi Ornan wrote "The Israel Lands Authority (ILA) upholds all JNF regulations concerning the land under its control. This land can never be sold, only leased out. In this way, ILA officials can decide who can lease a plot, house, or apartment in a housing project. In so doing, the ILA applies a clear-cut 'basic standard'. . . Whoever is registered as a 'Jew' is fully eligible as a lessee in a greater part of the country, including its cities and settlements; but whoever is not so registered, is barred from owning real estate in most of the country's territory. In this way, the law and various regulations enforce what could be referred to as physical residential segregation, both of individuals and of whole communities, organized in separate 'Bantustans.?

As Professor Ornan and other Hebrew press commentators have long made clear, the area on which those racist restrictions apply amounts to 92 percent of Israel's surface, or 94 percent of the land within its pre-1967 borders.

Other Discrimination Problems

Two other discrimination problems are currently in the public eye. The first is discrimination against the Druze community. The second is the future effect on Israel, both as a state and a society, of persisting official discrimination.

The present focus on the Druze is quite symptomatic, since it has to do with "security. " Although the religious segment of Jewish public opinion may take discrimination for granted, the secular segment seeks to justify it on the ground that since the majority of the Israeli Arabs do not serve in the army, they shouldn't have the same rights as the Jews who do.

The Arabs are considered disloyal, which explains their enforced exemption from army service in the first place. This means that the State of Israel, from its inception, has determined, with the help of its "experts, " the communal loyalty of each non-Jewish community. Such populations have been granted rights, sometimes more generous, sometimes less, but never the full rights which accrue only to the Jews.

Both of these explanations for the existing discrimination, of course, are patently false. A population cannot be collectively responsible for anything. Traditionally, it was the anti-Semites who attributed collective responsibility to the Jews.

In the second place, some Jews don't serve in the army on the grounds of health, religion or because when they immigrated into Israel they were too old. However, they still get all their rights.

Moreover, the Druze do serve in the army, and large numbers of them are recruited into the police, the prison service, and the like. Yet they are discriminated against. In the army, only recently have they been allowed to advance to the rank of colonel, but, by an administrative ruling, no higher. They are also discriminated against in all branches of the "security system."

As pointed out by Ran Kislev in Haaretz of May 10, 1991, "The Druze have legitimate claims against the [Israeli] authorities. Once a year, just prior to Independence Day, government officials visit them and speak about the' alliance forged in blood' between the Jews and the Druze and about their 'common fate.'

Kislev notes that a government resolution was passed some years ago "to 'put Druze villages on equal footing with Jewish development towns,' but it appears that this resolution (like the majority of resolutions concerning the Arab sector) exists solely on paper. According to a government bill, the process of bringing conditions in Druze villages up to the level of Jewish towns should have taken five years. Now that four years ... have lapsed, what has become all too obvious is not the municipal equality that ought to exist between Druze villages and neighboring Jewish towns, but the similarity between conditions in Druze villages and those in Arab villages: the same dearth of development funds, the same dilapidated service infrastructure, and the same sewage running through the lanes of the villages."

When the Druze demonstrated in front of the prime minister's office, they got treatment, in Kislev's words, "more or less the same as other Arab protesters get: tear gas. " Yet, since the Druze community is tiny, the funds which they ask for amount, in Kislev's words, "to no more than pocket money in relation to the overall [Israeli] budget. " Since it is still not granted, Kislev expresses his suspicions gently, deeming it "inconceivable that someone in the government is deliberately making life difficult for the Druze, bringing the entire community, renowned for its loyalty to Israel, to the point of rebellion."

Druze protests have usually been led by retired officers who had served in e Israeli army for up to 30 years, often as deputy district governors (they cannot become governors) in the occupied territories, to find on their retirement that in addition to being denied the right to farm state-owned land in the vicinity of their villages, they may also still be regarded as "security risks. " Since 1985, the Hebrew press has described some really bizarre cases, such as Druze being denied the right to work in weapons factories, after guarding the same factories during their reserve duty, or of others being fired from their jobs, ostensibly for " security reasons," but really in order to hire Soviet Jewish immigrants in their places.

In truth, the case of the Druze (and of other even smaller minorities, such as the Circassians, who are in the same position) shows that discrimination against all non-Jews is, in the Jewish state, a matter of principle, which has nothing to do with security. If the Druze are granted equality in fact, the whole character of Israel as a "Jewish state" is bound to be affected. To maintain its official "Jewishness, " the state must deny the Druze equal rights.

"More Equal Than Others"

Kislev describes Israeli officialdom's "pecking order" in the treatment of Arab communities. "Among the persons and institutions dealing with the Israeli Arabs, there exists an explicit scale laid down by the authorities according to which different groups in this sector are treated," Kislev writes. "The Druze are at the top, being more equal than others. The Bedouin come next, albeit much further down the scale, and are followed by the Christian Arabs. The Muslim Arabs are at the very bottom."

This type of formal stratification existed in Czarist Russia and similar pre-modern states. The Jews then were at the bottom of the "pecking order, " or close to it. Israel is determined to treat its non-Jewish minorities the way the Jews were treated by the anti-Semitic regimes, and as other Eastern European or Middle Eastern minorities are treated by states or movements which have rejected the principle of equality of all citizens.

In Haaretz of April 11, Aharon Barnea departs from the assumption that there are two kinds of modem states. "In a state of the law, of the type which has emerged as a model in the Western world, nationality is territorial, which means that all citizens of a given state are regarded as its nationals. This is the great legacy of the French and the American Revolutions.

"But other types of states have developed as well, for example in Eastern Europe, where nationality has been conceived of differently. In place of a territorial concept of nationality, its romantic-organic concept has become crystallized...

"By its very nature, such a version of nationality engenders intolerance towards strangers, to the point of implying that members of other ethnic groups living in such a state cannot be integrated into the ,spirit' or the 'material substance' of the thus-conceived-of nation, even if their ancestors had lived there for centuries. "

Barnea explains that "the very character of the State of Israel, as a result of its claiming to be a democratic state on one hand and the State of the Jewish People on the other, " involves a contradiction which cannot but invite a calamitous outcome.

"I see the cunning of history at work in this instance, " Bamea concludes, "for how else could one explain the current Jewish concept of nationality, if not by tracing its origins to the national-romantic model which Germany developed to such perfection?"

A statement as critical of Israel as this one, I would imagine, could not be published in any Western country without generating a concerted rebuke by the local organized Jewish community and its allies.

Yet the celebrated Hebrew writer A.B. Yehoshua also criticizes the inequalities which define Israel's character. In Yediot Ahronot of April 21 he first calls the stock arguments of all the Israeli governments in favor of the exclusive Jewish right to come and live in Palestine, "preposterous."

"People have the right to settle and reside in only one place. That is in the country in which they were born and lived heretofore. This right is natural and inalienable, not contingent on the will or legal charter of any regime. Anyone who violates this right, violates a basic human right... The Palestinians have the same rights in the Land of Israel as the French in France, or the Swedes in Sweden ... The right to live in one's country of origin is not restricted to those Arabs who at present reside in the western Land of Israel. It also accrues to all Palestinians living abroad, regardless of where they were born, in the same way as a Russian Jew has the right to live in his historic country of origin-i.e., Israel-even if neither he himself nor his recent ancestors were born here."

Such unconditional recognition of Palestinian rights, jointly with the Right of their Return to Israel as well as to the occupied territories, which in Israel on principle accrues only to the Jews, amounts to a veritable conceptual revolution which subverts the present legal foundations of Israel as a Jewish state. It is enough to compare Yehoshua's doctrine with the standard Israeli claim that the Palestinian expellees from the territories, or those who have for several years resided abroad without reporting to the Israeli consular authorities, automatically forfeit their right to return to the land of their birth.

Other commentators argue that Israel's legal foundations in racism and ethnic discrimination not only hurt its non-Jewish citizens and adversely affect the state's future, but also threaten the interests of its Jewish citizens, especially the new Jewish immigrants from the USSR.

Bo'az Evron writes in the April 4 Yediot Ahronot: "The new Jewish immigrants are, in fact, refugees fleeing a country fast falling apart ... Israeli and Zionist emissaries have left no stone unturned in prodding the nations of the world to deny entry to Jewish refugees, so as to force them to settle in Israel. If the choice were theirs, 97 per cent would' drop out. 'But this means that the nations of the world, at Israel's prodding, have consciously embarked upon a policy of discrimination against the Jewish refugees. Incontestably, it is an anti-Semitic policy which in a different context could not fail to provoke outrage. Only because the gates have been locked, and [the Soviet Jews] have nowhere else to go, can we celebrate the 'immigration miracle.'

"If they were guided by the best interests of these Jews, the [Israeli] government and the Jewish Agency would seek to open all the doors in the world to everyone wishing to leave the USSR... But who cares about the best interests of these Jews? They concern Shamir and Sharon only insofar as they can populate the settlements, or serve as a pretext for grabbing more land in the West Bank, or become soldiers in future wars ...

"Here the great secret of Zionism in the past few generations stands revealed. Long ago, Zionism ceased its concern for what is good for the Jews. Quite the contrary, Zionism is interested in seeing to it that the Jews suffer, so that they will leave their homes and come to Israel. This is why each glimmer of anti-Semitism fills the hearts of Zionists with relief. Zionism needs Jews in order to boost the Jewish population and military strength of Israel, not for their own sake ... As human beings, they are of no concern to either the State of Israel or the Zionist Movement."

Dr. Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor and retired professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is chairman of the Israeli League of Human and Civil Rights. His monthly translations From the Hebrew Press are available to Washington Report readers for $25 a year.

(c) Copyright 1995-1999, American Educational Trust. All Rights Reserved.

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