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.