The Reality of Racial Inequality

Originally posted 6/12/2012

The following article was written by Ryan Brownell, HRA intern in 2012. It discusses the overt racism in Israeli policy towards its Palestinian citizens. It was published by Al Akhbar English, and can be found here:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its annual report on Israel last month, praising the strength of the Israeli economy while condemning a rate of inequality that has risen steadily over the last 20 years. The report designated Israel as one of the three IMF members with the worst inequality, and warned of the risk to Israel’s economic integrity posed by the growing disparity between the country’s rich and poor. In a widely publicized interview with Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that, “if you deduct the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox from inequality indexes, we’re in great shape.”

The Prime Minister’s candor comes at a time when growth and prosperity in the State of Israel are split clearly along racial and religious lines, and sheds light in particular on recent sweeping legislation that explicitly excludes the 1.3 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship from Israeli society. While the native Palestinian population inside the Green Line has proven persistently difficult to “deduct” from either their land or Israeli demographics, the Palestinian minority trails the Jewish majority in all significant measures of participation, achievement, and quality of life.

According to the 2011 Statistical Abstract of Israel, the unemployment rate of Arab citizens in Israel is 25 percent higher than that of Jews, while the infant mortality rate for non-Jewish citizens (7.1 per 1000 births) is more than double the rate of Jewish citizens (2.9 per 1000 births.) Disturbingly, the rate of Arabs registered with state social services was 150 percent that of Jewish citizens.

In a media environment where it is thought of as encouraging to see coverage of the relentless violence against Palestinians by illegal settlers in Hebron, or the dehumanizing powerlessness of Palestinians watching their homes being demolished in the Occupied Territories, it is easy and common to consider these data through a spectrum of relative Palestinian suffering. After all, only so much attention and resources can realistically be devoted to the Palestinian cause. What is lost in this perspective is the shared identity that unites these Palestinians, on both sides of the Green Line, in the eyes of the Jewish State.

In the Concluding Observations of its 2012 annual report on Israel, the UN Committee on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (CERD) “notes with increasing concern that Israeli society maintains Jewish and non-Jewish sectors,” and “urges the State party to give full effect to article 3 and to make every effort to eradicate all forms of segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.”

The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which is treated as a kind of bill of rights by Israeli legal scholars, does not enumerate a right to equality; on the contrary, this Basic Law emphasizes the character of the State as a Jewish State. Section 1(a) of The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty states that, “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In specific reference to the lack of judicial and legislative protections against this ethnic and religious discrimination, the CERD called on the State to “ensure that the prohibition of racial discrimination and the principle of equality are included in the Basic Law and that a definition of racial discrimination is duly incorporated into the Law.”

While these standards form the foundation for so much of the public discrimination that exists today, this legal jargon fails to convey the impact of this inequality on human lives in the Israeli system. In State-run polls, relative to Jews the Arab minority reported less satisfaction with not only their financial security but also their lives. Arrestingly, Arabs reported that they “have no one to turn to in times of crisis” at more than twice the rate of Jewish citizens.

It is into this environment of widespread and visible racial inequality that the Israeli government under Netanyahu has passed, renewed, and legalized an impressive shock of legislation that widens the divide between Jews and Palestinians under Israeli rule. The methods and purpose of these laws directly target Palestinian quality of life and expose the application of racial subordination in a multi-ethnic society.

In March of last year, the Knesset passed the Admissions Committees Law, which authorizes communities “to bar residents who do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community.” The law gives full discretion to small panels, or “admissions committees” of citizens to screen potential residents of communities using vague and arbitrary standards, legalizing racial exclusion in more than 45 percent of cities and towns in Israel.

Importantly, these committees must include a representative from the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organization, which are quasi‐governmental Zionist bodies whose presence encourages the rejection of Arab applicants and other marginalized groups. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel condemned the law, stating that it “discriminates against and humiliates people whose only crime is a desire to exercise their right to choose where to live.”

When deeply entrenched inequality is an everyday reality for the Palestinian minority, this law serves to concentrate Palestinian families to areas of poor infrastructure, inadequate services in healthcare and education, and limited access to employment options. In its inequality report, the IMF stressed some specific challenges placed in the path of Palestinians by State policy and budget priorities. “The quality of infrastructure in Israel is below the OECD average…Poor transport infrastructure is one of the obstacles to regional Arab communities’ participation in the labor market.”

Also in March of 2011, the Knesset authorized Amendment 3 of the Israel Lands Law, which defines anyone who is not entitled to immigrate to Israel under the Israeli Law of Return (1950), i.e. non-Jewish persons, as “foreigners”. The law prohibits any entity (public or private) from selling or renting out property for a period of over five years, or from bequeathing or bestowing rights to private property registered in Israel to these “foreigners”.

In explaining the amendment’s motivations for denying fundamental land rights along racial lines, one Israeli MP told the Knesset floor, “There may be heavy (Arab) waves of purchasing, which would pose a real threat to the fact that this (State) is the State of the Jewish people first and foremost. Land is allotted for that purpose. All the conflict between us here is all over land. It is the essence of the conflict.”

In its Israel country report, CERD “notes with concern the enactment of a number of discriminatory laws on land issues which disproportionately affect non-Jewish communities…the Committee strongly recommends that the State party ensure equal access to land and property and to that end abrogate or rescind any legislation that does not comply with the principle of non-discrimination.”

In refreshing contrast to the impotent language typically used by CERD and other observing parties, Article 24 of this country report called on the State to “take immediate measures to prohibit and eradicate…all policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid” in the Occupied Territories.

When the UN summons the political will to recognize the vivid reality of apartheid, particularly in the face of ongoing American hamstringing, there is no more appropriate a time to name and reject the ideology in whose name Jewish life is valued above Palestinian life in all of historical Palestine.

The ideology is Zionism. An arrogant quip by the Prime Minister about excluding and “deducting” minorities does not convey the realities of dehumanizing Israeli policies in Palestinian daily life. And the very real differences between Nablus and Nazareth will not be addressed by denying Palestinians’ shared identity as the focus of the ultra-nationalist racism of the Jewish state.

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