Saturday, July 28, 2007
A new bill in the Knesset seeks to perpetuate discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens.
By Richard Silverstein
"A fixture in the lives of all children who have ever attended Hebrew school is the blue Jewish National Fund (JNF) pushke (or charity box), into which parents and teachers encouraged us to throw our pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. They taught us to perform a mitzvah by giving tzedakah to support the building of the Jewish homeland. Thus, the Jewish National Fund was the Red Cross of Jewish life, a "mom and apple pie" charity doing nothing but good for our people.
How times change! Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed, on first reading, the Jewish National Fund bill which allows the JNF to refuse to lease land to Arab citizens. The JNF is a quasi-public charity established to raise funds to purchase land for Jewish settlement within Israel. In 1961, the Israeli government transferred 13% of Israeli land to the JNF. Included in this were one million dunams expropriated from Arab residents who fled Israel in 1948......
The reason this issue is so complicated is that Israel considers itself the homeland of the Jewish people. As such, it currently discriminates in many ways in favour of its Jewish citizens. But at the same time it considers itself a democracy and includes a sizable minority of Arab citizens. These two elements have always co-existed in a tense relationship. While there undoubtedly remains a high level of prejudice against Israeli Arabs, social developments - which include the High Court ruling - have been very gradually eroding some of the more odious discriminatory regulations.
This legislative attempt to restore to the JNF its right to discriminate in favour of Jews may be seen as a rump effort by the Israeli right to take back its prerogatives and return to the era when Jews predominated and there was never a doubt that Arabs were second-class citizens. Is it too much to expect a majority of the Knesset to see this and put down this attempt to enshrine Jewish dominance into the law of a state otherwise proud to call itself a democracy? "