The Rights of Israeli Arabs – Is Anti-Zionism Antisemitism? Examining the facts behind the claims made by supporters of the BDS movement

“Israeli Arabs are treated as ‘Third class citizens.’ They have to use separate roads from other Israelis, they do not receive medication, hospitals, schooling, as Jewish Israelis do. They are discriminated against when looking for jobs.”

Recently a few of us decided to attend a weekly protest that takes place on Oxford street every Thursday evening organised by the BDS organisation “Victory to the Intifada,” known as the Picket.

We spoke to a number of people who were in attendance who were willing to be interviewed by us and share their views on why they were boycotting Marks and Spencer for trading with Israel and against Zionism.

There is an ongoing argument as to whether or not anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism, and ones freedom to voice legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies. This is very vague, so we wanted to know what these people believe, what their criticisms are and here we will explore their claims and ascertain how legitimate and truthful such voices are.

You may view our interview above and following film refuting their claims. We will address many of the points made and some of the many claims we found to simply be incorrect. In this post we focused on one attendees claims concerning the rights and status of Israel’s Arab citizens

Israeli Arabs live under Apartheid and do not have civil rights or the right to vote.

This claim is simply false, 20% of Israel’s population are non-Jews and mostly Arabs. They vote in the Israeli elections and even have their own political parties who sit in the Israeli Knesset including for example parties such as Balad who are an anti-Zionist party, or Hadash which is a mixed Jewish-Arab Socialist political party as well as others. In spite of Israel being a Jewish state it is also a democratic state and such groups whilst opposed to the views of the majority of Israel’s population are permitted to stand for election and sit in its parliament campaigning that it stop being a Jewish state, this challenges Israel’s declaration of Independence and its resin d’être. For example one Arab MK stood up in the Israel parliament and said “we got rid of the Turks, we got rid of the British and we will get rid of you (the Israelis).” (Can be viewed here The Case For Israel after 31 minutes). In some countries this would be considered treason, but these views have been voiced by Arabs with full Israeli citizenship who have been elected to the government.

It is often asserted that Zionism or Israel is Nazism, but this fact demonstrates that this is not the case, Nazi Germany did not permit Jews to vote and certainly not to form and elect their own political parties to sit in the Reichstag. Nor is Israel attempting to obliterate anything related to Arabic culture from Israeli society, Arabic is even recognised as an official language in Israel along with Hebrew, and all official documents are translated into Arabic as well as Hebrew. This is evident even from looking at the Israeli currency, the Shekel for example. Below is 20 Shekel note, here you see both Hebrew, Arabic and English.

20 shekel

Israeli road signs are translated into both Arabic and English.

TME1561

There is no evidence to suggest that Israelis think of the Arabs and Arabic culture in comparable terms to how the Nazis regarded the Jews. For sure there is a conflict going on, but the hatred cannot be compared.

Access to the Israeli Healthcare system

Not only do Israeli Arabs have access to medical care in Israel, even many Palestinian Arabs have been able to access medical care from Israeli hospitals, including the IDF setting up an open air hospital to treat wounded Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. See here. Israeli Arabs not only have access to the healthcare service themselves, but they also work in it. During Operation Protective Edge, an Israeli Arab treated an Israeli soldier hit by Palestinian Arab bullets. Read more.

In Israel, the healthcare system is privatised, so Israelis have to choose one of a number of healthcare providers, such as Clalit or Maccabi for example and then register with a clinic that is covered by that provider. Medical insurance is paid usually along with income tax, through ones salary, much like how in the UK it comes out of our national insurance. However, by law, all Israelis must have health insurance, in the event that someone is unemployed and cannot afford medical insurance, the Israeli government will pay for your health insurance until you have employment and can pay for it yourself. This is not limited to Jewish Israelis, all Israelis including Israeli Arabs benefit from the Israeli healthcare system.

Schooling

Israel has a rather interesting schooling system. In Israel, there are three different types of schools, religious Jewish schools, which mostly services the Haredi Orthodox communities in Israel, a secular school, this is largely composed of secular Jewish Israelis, depending on where in the country one lives would make up different demographics, they are open to all, so for example in places with mixed populations like Haifa for example one may find more of Israel’s minority groups attending these schools along with Jewish Israelis. As well as an Arab school system, which is recognised and supported by the State of Israel.

It is important to understand this system in context. Unlike in London which is very cosmopolitan, where towns are completely mixed of different ethnic groups, Israel is different. In cities such as Jerusalem, Haifa for example this somewhat resembles this too. But in the more rural parts of the country, it is composed of Kibbutzim, which are almost entirely Jewish, Arab villages which are totally Arab, Druze villages that are entirely Druze as well as a few other minority groups scattered throughout the country. Their communities are not separated by law, but are a result of the history of the country, which is a bit beyond the scope of this article now.

Israel’s Arab population, do not have their own education system due to discrimination, but actually it was implemented out of a respect for the large Arab minority in Palestine.

On 7th June 1939 the Jewish Agency Executive (the precursor to the Israeli government before 1948) held a meeting in which Ben Gurion proposed his ‘lines of action’ regarding the question of the Arab population in the prospective Jewish State. He proposed the following points:

“1. ‘The constitution of the Jewish State will be based on the general voting right of all its adult citizens regardless of their religion, race, sex or class…’(Line of Action 19)
2. ‘The Jewish State will protect the rights of the religious and national minorities and will ensure the freedom of worship and conscience of all communities and citizens’ (Line of Action 21)
3. ‘Every religious community will enjoy complete freedom to make its own practising arrangements, without undermining public order and the foundations of morality. Holy days of each religious community will be recognized as official resting days of this community’ (Line of Action 22)
4. ‘There will be no discrimination among citizens of the Jewish State on the basis of race, religion, sex or class…’ (Line of Action 23)
5. ‘Hebrew will be the state language. But every national minority will be given the full freedom to use its own language in educating its children and managing the rest of its internal needs’ (Line of Action 24)
6. ‘The Arab minority will be able to use the Arabic language not only in its own educational, religious, and communal institutions, but also its contacts with all state institutions. In every district, town, or village, where Arabs form a majority, all government announcements will be published in Arabic as well’ (Line of Action 25)
7. ‘The Jewish State will not contest itself with full legal equality of all its citizens but will make deliberate graduated efforts to bring the equality of life of the Arab minority to the cultural, social, and economic level of the Jewish majority – through compulsory education to all children, medical and sanitary services, special legislation to protect industrial workers, and the cultivation of general trade unionism and market cooperation with no ethnic discrimination among Jewish and Arab workers, peasants, members of free professions, industrialists, and merchants’ (Line of Action 26)
8. ‘Until the barriers between the standards of living of the Jewish majority and the Arab minority have been blurred – the state will ensure a fair percentage of its working places and services to Arab civil servants and workers at equal salaries to Jewish servants and workers. In addition, Arab representatives will be ensured a fair percentage in the states elected institutions, without institutionalizing sectarian elections’ (Line of Action 27)
9. ‘In tandem with its effective protection of minority rights in all economic, political, and cultural walks of life – the state will endeavour to root among all its citizens a mutual awareness of their being members of the same state and will cultivate any action and organization aimed at destroying barriers between ethnic groups and religions in official spheres’ (Line of Action 28)” (Jewish Agency Executive, meeting of 7th June 1938, p.16, Line of Action 19,21-28.)

Israeli Arabs enjoy full political rights in Israel, including attending Israeli universities. The claim that people may discriminate against them in the workplace may occur, Israel is not a perfect society, and people can be racist everywhere, there is racism of this kind even in the UK and the US towards certain groups. We would not necessarily say that every country is a racist country because people living there may experience discrimination at times. This is also not something that is endorsed by the Israeli government even if it occurs.

No doubt there are examples people can point to in Israel of this happening, and it is something that needs to be improved, but at the same time it cannot be separated from the fact that there is an ongoing conflict between Israel and the Arab world and so such incidents are unfortunate and tragic. But Israel does not discriminate against Israeli Arabs by law. They enjoy the benefits of being an Israeli citizen like other Israelis, with the exception of serving in the IDF, and we don’t see many Israeli Arabs complaining that this is discrimination and demanding that they be permitted to be drafted. In fact, if they were to, Israel may well accept them, as it has with some Arab groups within Israel.

Israeli Arabs have to use separate roads to Israeli Jews

This claim is not true with regards to Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs, may perhaps be subject to more rigorous security checks at Israeli check points for example when driving through roads in the West bank. But within the pre-1967 borders, Israeli Arabs are free to drive on the same roads as everyone else throughout the country, to go to restaurants, shops and any public place within Israel.

Recently www.jewsnews.co.il posted the following picture of a group of observant Muslims enjoying themselves at an Israeli beach with the following caption Arabs in the “APARTHEID STATE OF ISRAEL” enjoying fun at the beach…for an ‘apartheid state’ we sure do suck at itScreen-Shot-2014-08-12-at-2.45.55-PM

Conclusion

Whilst it is difficult to say that the argument made that Israeli Arabs live under an apartheid is outright anti-Semitic. This is grossly misleading people into believing that Israel is a state where Jews have all the rights and Arabs have no rights. The spread of such false teachings about Israeli state policy serves to demonise Israel and Zionism as racists, when the truth is something very different to what they are claiming.

By portraying Israel in such a light, it creates a climate where people who uncritically accept these claims without looking into them for themselves and are very unfamiliar with the Arab-Israeli conflict will associate terms such as Israel and Zionism as synonymous with racism.

Most British Jews have a close relationship with Israel as their ancestral homeland, both religious and spiritual ties to the land of Israel and a connection to the people of Israel. Many have relatives there and support Israel’s right to exist, particularly as it serves as a refuge for all Jews in need of somewhere to go in the case of persecution and anti-Semitism. Something that Jews throughout the world realised was needed more than ever during the horrors of the Holocaust, but a Jewish state did not exist. This is what Zionism means to most Jews who identify as Zionists.

But when a Jew proudly says he is a Zionist, these anti-Zionist groups hear Apartheid, Racism, Ethnic Cleansing, Colonialism and Genocide. Such claims as discussed above cannot be pinned down as outright racial anti-Semitism. It could be argued that it is a libellous, unfounded claim against the state of Israel. By seeking to demonise Israel with false claims, this consequently puts anyone who supports or positively identifies with Israel (in other words, the majority of the British Jewish community) at risk of becoming unjustified targets for verbal and physical abuse.

Flyer handed out at the Protest

Victory to the Intifada 2

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