Israel: Democracy or tyranny of the majority?

US president Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyanu recent meeting, where they all but agreed to scrap the two state solution, merely formalises Israel’s march towards an apartheidesque state.

Defending the Israeli state, supporters praise Israel’s democratic credentials. Freedom House, an NGO part funded by the US, assessed that; “Israel remains the region’s only Free country.”.

But opponents detail the discriminatory apartheid type laws and state sanctioned violence towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, which points to Israel being little more than a tyranny of the majority.

Demolished Palestinian home
Palestinian children stand on their demolished home

Discrimination against minorities

A report for the European Parliament found that Israel is operating a discriminatory legal framework:

“While Israel is a democratic state that enshrines its citizens’ rights to ‘life, body and dignity’ in its Basic Law, Palestinian citizens of Israel are discriminated against in a variety of manners. Their national identity as Palestinian living in Israel and religious identity as non-Jewish mean that they are denied equal individual rights. In a number of ways, discrimination against them is supported by the Israeli legal system.”

The same report found that as of 2011 there were in the region of 30 pieces of legislation violating international law that discriminate against Arabs. Just a few examples are:

  • Law of Return and Citizenship Law. This discriminates against the spouses of Palestinian Israelis by barring them from citizenship or residency
  • ‘Ban on BDS Bill’. Public support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is made a civil offence punishable by fines up to €6000.
  • Citizenship Law amendment. Requires the declaration of a loyalty oath to Israel as a “Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, to its symbols and values…”. Violates article 18 of UDHR right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • Negev Development Law amendment. Provides Jewish families with land and excludes Israeli Palestinians, those suffering the greatest impact are members of the Bedouin tribe.

The impact of these laws are devastating for Palestinians and Israeli Arabs; they deny them freedom of expression and to practise their culture.

Land theft

Palestinian land has been the subject of relentless expropriation by the Israeli state. The West Bank, an Israeli occupied territory, has been salami sliced by settlements that have grown on stolen land.

Land theft 1946 to 2009
Palestinian loss of land

There are various methods of land theft deployed against Palestinians including the erection of barriers to prevent Palestinians access to their farming and grazing lands. Then after three years, under the ‘Emergency Regulations for the Exploitation of Uncultivated Lands’ act, the Israeli state takes the land. If that fails then the military can use laws such as the ‘Emergency Regulations (Security Zones) of 1949‘ to force Palestinians off the land or grab it outright.

Since the election of Donald Trump the Israeli state has dropped all pretense of its land seizure programme. The Knesset’s approval of the “Regulation Bill”, which seeks to retrospectively legalise 4,000 settlement homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, formally institutionalises the theft of Palestinian property.

Israel’s own Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions programme

The siege of Gaza where businesses and infra-structure are attacked is a deliberate ploy to throttle its economic life. Goods are heavily restricted from entry, even life saving medical supplies for cancer treatment are denied. Fishing boats are frequently shot at or harassed by the Israeli Navy to disrupt business and food supplies.

In this light, Israel’s supporters fury at the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, branding it anti-Semitic, is especially galling considering that BDS is a peaceful movement as opposed to Israel’s violent economic blockade against Palestinians.

Suppression of language

Arabic, the first language of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, along with Hebrew, which is the first language of Israeli Jews, are official state languages. In reality the status of Arabic is inferior to Hebrew. Adalah, a legal rights NGO, in ‘The Inequality Report’, gave an example:

“For example, more than 200 major principle decisions issued by the Supreme Court have been translated into English and have been published on the court’s website along with the original Hebrew decisions. Although the majority of these decisions are relevant to Palestinian citizens of Israel and to Palestinians in the OPT, none of them has been translated into Arabic. In addition, many official forms are not available in Arabic. Ministries routinely refuse to accept official documents in Arabic…”.

Ethnic cleansing

There is a long record of the Israeli state clearing Bedouin villages to be replaced with Jewish only areas.

Israel plans to demolish 35 of those villages in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel displacing 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel. In their place towns such as Hiran will be built exclusively for Jewish residents.

Bigotry and violence

Israeli politicians are not shy when playing the race card. For instance, Benjamin Netenyanu during the 2015 Knesset elections, pleaded with Jews to get out and vote, warning that the Arabs were coming out in droves to vote:

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”

The Israeli state is not shy about using violence either, examples include state brutality towards young children in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), where forced confessions and sexual assaults by Israeli forces are routine.

Little more than a tyranny of the majority

Racism and religious bigotry is endemic in the Israeli state and its institutions. It abuses its majority privilege to discriminate against and repress the rights of racial and religious minorities with near impunity.

The claim that Israel is a democracy is a long standing geopolitical joke. The reality is that the Israeli regime is little more than a ‘tyranny of the majority’.

Gary Hollands – February 21st 2017


UN report concludes Israel an apartheid state

Since this piece was written a report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was released 15th March. It concludes that by the criteria of International law Israel is an apartheid state.

A furore followed with pressure from the US and Israel succeeding in having the report removed from the ESCWA report launch web page. The head of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, was forced to resign.

Interestingly, the reason given was an error of process, not the veracity of the report itself. Al Jazeera quoted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric, This is not about content, this is about process,. The UN, as well as major media outlets, were aware of the report and its language well in advance so this seems a rather weak excuse.

The report authors were under no illusions on what the reaction would be:

“The authors of this report, examining whether Israel has established an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole, fully appreciate the sensitivity of the question. …Even broaching the issue has been denounced by spokespersons of the Israeli Government and many of its supporters as anti-Semitism in a new guise.”

And so it proved. Instead of critiquing the report, Israel and its allies engaged in distortion and ad hominem attacks on the authors. A typical example was the response of the CEO of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Robert Singer, who without irony referred to the authors words above:

“Already in their preface, the two authors try to shield themselves against accusations of anti-Semitism. They probably know why. As the European Working Definition of Anti-Semitism makes it clear: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, is a form of anti-Semitism.”

For my part, I fully support the conclusion of the report’s authors that:

“To assert that the policies and practices of a sovereign State amount to apartheid constitutes a grave charge. A study aimed at making such a determination should be undertaken and submitted for consideration only when supporting evidence clearly exceeds reasonable doubt. The authors of this report believe that evidence for suspecting that a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people meets such a demanding criterion.”

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