Israeli Segregation

One of the least noted aspects of Israeli civil society is how rampant discrimination against Arab-Israelis is. A Jim Crow-like system known as “nationality laws” prevent Arabs from owning land, give Jews preference in university admission, mortgages, loans and government employment, and make Arabs ineligible for the draft, thus denying a vast majority of them access to the multitude of benefits granted only to veterans. This systemic segregation has wide support among the Israeli Jews; 68% say they would not like an Arab neighbor. Not only that, but a major issue in Israeli politics is how to prevent Arab-Israelis from becoming the majority ethnicity; imagine if immigration opponents in the US talked openly of their fear of a Hispanic majority. What’s more, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party which currently rules in coalition with Kadima and Labor, has openly called for the expulsion of Arab Israeli citizens.
One would think that a system, and a political climate, as blatantly racist as this would engender opposition even among rabidly pro-Israel constituencies in the US. After all, how could a respectable figure support racial segregation in this day and age? Thankfully, David Bernstein has a post today showing us that it’s perfectly acceptable to dig up old arguments in favor of Jim Crow in order to defend its modern equivalent in Israel. He argues that the discrimination is really the fault of Arabs, saying they aren’t worthy equal rights because, well, they’re Arabs, and we all know Arabs are a Fifth Column that wants to destroy Israel. After all, they refuse to participate in the occupation of Palestine, which Israeli Jews would never do. Also, they don’t willingly volunteer for an army whose primary role is to occupy Palestine; clearly, this renders them unworthy of veteran’s benefits, which more or less every Israeli Jew receives. But this blame-the-victim attitude isn’t even the worst part of Bernstein’s post. The worst is his completely serious defense of school segregation:

Jews and Arabs do go to separate primary and secondary schools (though contrary to the article, this is not universal, as even critics acknowledge), with different curriculums, which both communities generally prefer, in part because there is no strong separation of church and state in Israel, and in part because neither the Jews nor the Arabs want the Arabs to be forced to adopt the majority language and culture (perhaps another mistake from a state-building perspective). For the former reason, non-Orthodox, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish children also go to separate schools.

I love that, to Bernstein, Israel’s lack of a separation of church and state is a *justification* for racism, rather than a problem in itself. I also love his suggestion that the segregation is for the Arabs’ own good. Most of all, I love that Bernstein never seems conscious of the fact that he’s defending school segregation. But, as always, it’s okay if you’re Israel.

10 thoughts on “Israeli Segregation

  1. This has always been my objection to Israel. Until Arabs are treated equally and given full rights, there will never be real peace. Unfortunately that will never happen. This is also a good argument against a theocracy, no matter how well-intentioned.

  2. And it’s also a good argument against the “but it’s unique” defense of Israel. If every human rights abuse gets brushed aside because of the uniqueness of Israel’s circumstances, no progress will be made.

  3. One of the least noted aspects of Israeli civil society is how rampant discrimination against Arab-Israelis is.
    I was in Jerusalem for three weeks and it wasn’t any more “rampant” than racial problems are in the United States. Israeli Arabs can and do own land. They can and do vote — they have a large bloc in the Knesset. They can and do attend the main universities. In fact, in some ways Israel bends over backwards to accommodate not only Israeli Arabs, but even Jerusalem Palestinians. Every day when I was there, I could hear muezzin calls, amplified over loudspeakers, at 4am. They wake a lot of people up at night, including at times me. The Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem have a working exception to noise ordinances for their muezzin calls.
    Now I’m not saying that Israel doesn’t also discriminate against its Arab citizens. On balance it does; it should treat them better. But branding it as a unique troublemaker (among Western countries) in its treatment of minority citizens is not reasonable. Phyllis Bennis is a political radical and she is speaking very loosely about these matters. The real problem is the way that Israel treats Palestinian non-citizens.
    The other real problem is the way that Arab and Muslim countries treat Jews. Syrian Jews, for instance, really are treated as badly as Bennis imagines Israeli Arabs are treated.

  4. Also two more specific points:
    Clearly, this renders them unworthy of veteran’s benefits, which more or less every Israeli Jew receives.
    Again, the state is going out of its way on this point. Israeli Arabs have the option to do what Israeli Jews are required to do. It’s essentially a form of conscientious objection and it is in no way an apartheid law. Does any country give veterans benefits to conscientious objectors? Certainly the US does not.
    Most of all, I love that Bernstein never seems conscious of the fact that he’s defending school segregation.
    The point is that Israeli Arabs speak Arabic and Israeli Jews speak Hebrew. Canada has exactly the same form of school segregation. As in Canada, public signs are posted in two languages. (Three, actually, if you count English.)

  5. Phyllis Bennis is a political radical and she is speaking very loosely about these matters.
    Then let’s find another source, shall we? Here‘s the University of Maryland’s Minorities at Risk project:

    Arabs in Israel, although full citizens under the law, suffer political discrimination based on decades of social exclusion. As an ethnic democracy, the nationalism inherent in Israel’s foundation as a “Jewish state” is at odds with its political basis of democratic governance vis-à-vis the Arab minority. Although there is no official policy of discrimination, Arabs are restricted from military service and political organizing. Israeli Arab parties include the Arab Democratic Party and the Progressive List for Peace, but because Arabs in Israel do not vote as a block, Arab presence in the Knesset is not proportional to their overall numbers. De facto discrimination also occurs against Israeli Arabs in the economic sphere. Tangible benefits in housing, employment, taxes, and education are provided by the government upon completion of military service, yet Arabs are barred from the military. As a result, Arab Israelis have consistently demanded more employment opportunities and funding for its population. Following the demonstrations in September and October 2000, the Government passed an economic assistance plan for its Arab citizens to be phased in over 4 years; however Israeli Arab leaders criticized the plan because it was inadequate and was not based on a comprehensive survey of the economic needs of the Arab Israeli population and because only half of the total sum represented newly allocated money. The Government had still not implemented the plan by the end of 2002. Additionally, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organ of the voluntary, nongovernmental World Zionist Organization, owns a high percentage of Israeli land, and yet by established JNF policy, these lands can not be alienated to non-Jews. An Arab Israeli couple legally fought the JNF for not allowing them to purchase land, and the High Court ruled in 2000 that the JNF policies for developing public land were discriminatory. However, since the fund’s bylaws prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews, the High Court determined that differentiating between Jews and non-Jews in land allocation might be acceptable under unspecified “special circumstances.”

    I think this is closer to Bennis’ characterization than to yours.
    Again, the state is going out of its way on this point. Israeli Arabs have the option to do what Israeli Jews are required to do. It’s essentially a form of conscientious objection and it is in no way an apartheid law. Does any country give veterans benefits to conscientious objectors? Certainly the US does not.
    If this is the motivation, then the policy should be for Arab conscientious objectors to be treated as Jewish ones are. As it stands, the system serves to preserve the IDF as a overwhelmingly Jewish institution, and to deny Arabs the benefits that come with veteran status.
    The point is that Israeli Arabs speak Arabic and Israeli Jews speak Hebrew. Canada has exactly the same form of school segregation. As in Canada, public signs are posted in two languages. (Three, actually, if you count English.)
    And I’m sure French-Canadian schools are written up by Human Rights Watch because of how horrifically worse than the English schools are. The correct analogy is pre-Brown American schools, Greg, not Canada.
    The other real problem is the way that Arab and Muslim countries treat Jews. Syrian Jews, for instance, really are treated as badly as Bennis imagines Israeli Arabs are treated.
    Also, gays are killed in Iran, so Americans who want gay marriage should quit their complaining.

  6. The correct analogy is pre-Brown American schools, Greg, not Canada.
    Actually, the correct analogy is to the system of de facto school segregation in the United States in 2007. It is not like the South before Brown v Board. I saw dozens of women students on the campus of HUJI in full-court abayas. There was no George Wallace standing at the entrance.
    I never said that people should “quit their complaining” about Israeli Arabs. They should complain. But they complaints should also be proportionate and valid. After all, Serbs complain about their mistreatment as minorities in Kosovo. I’m sure that they have valid grounds to complain, too, but their position is anything but even-handed.
    Anyway, maybe it’s a sour discussion for Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas to you, and good wishes to Jews and Arabs and everyone else.

  7. Anyway, maybe it’s a sour discussion for Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas to you, and good wishes to Jews and Arabs and everyone else.
    Well, no more sour than most of our discussions, I guess. Merry Christmas to you (and Rena, Nick and Vivian) as well.

  8. I could give a smelly shit about the Palestinians. When they decided to launch a program of blowing up men, women and children, I don’t care what happens to them. Israel could seal off the entire “Palestinian Zoo” and suffocate the lot of them. Palestinians do nothing for humanity but cause us aggravation and bring terrorism.
    And stop being an anti-Semitic piece of shit for once, eh?

  9. Merry Christmas to you, too, John. Because it’s Christmas, I’m going to let your genocide-supporting, blatantly racist comment stand. Moreover, it reflects far worse on you than on me. If, however, you post anything remotely like this on this blog again, all your posts will be deleted, and you will be blocked. Understood?

  10. Of course I am all for treating minorities with respect and as equals in every society, certainly including Israeli Arabs. And I am all for self-determination for disenfranchised groups such as the Palestinians. The problem for Israel is how a society should tolerate a separate culture that includes a great deal of intolerance.
    After all, Jewish settlement in Palestine provoked genocidal feelings among the local Arabs as early as the 1920s. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem proposed an alliance, specifically because what Hitler said about the Jews. Genocidal of the Jews has abated somewhat in the region since that time, but it has never really ended.
    This by no means suggests that Israel is in a unique situation. The Serbs tried to wipe out the Albanians in Kosovo, and now the Albanians are faced with the question of how to treat Serbs who still live there.
    Anyway, right way to respond is to set a good example and still try to create a tolerant, ethical society. The wrong way to respond is to get dragged down into the hatred and hatch your own genocidal thoughts.
    Israel deserves credit for sometimes responding in the right way. There is no way that a synagogue in any Arab country could have anything analogous to the muezzin calls in Jerusalem. There are Arab women in abayas in many cities in Israel, but there are no Jews sporting tzitzit in any Arab country; the few who are left travel incognito. But Israel also deserves blame for often responding the wrong way. It’s both a moral error and a threat to Israel’s security.

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