Posted by David Curtis on June 30, 2015 in Blog

1024px-PikiWiki_Israel_10523_Pardes_Hanna_Against_Racism.JPGForget the continued construction of illegal settlements, and forget Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza. Forget all of this, for now. But what of the rights and status of Palestinians who live within Israel itself; the “Arab Israelis?”

For many Americans, the recent revelation that Israel had been planning to segregate the Israeli bus system – separating Jewish and Arab citizens – brought to mind visions of our own country’s dark history. The proposal was frankly outrageous, and seemed to many like it could have come out of 1950s Alabama.

Luckily – and somewhat shockingly – one of Netanyahu’s first decisions with his new right-wing coalition was to scrap the segregation plans, although this was largely an attempt at preventing Israel from becoming an international pariah. But wait, buses originating in the West Bank and carrying passengers to Israeli cities are already segregated. The struggle for Palestinian rights within Israel is eerily similar to the Civil Rights movement a half century ago, despite attempts by some to distance the two movements

Claims that there are not policies and ideologies within Israel aimed at persecuting and discriminating against Palestinians are easily refuted: in the midst of Israel’s elections last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu worriedly posted to Facebook: “The rule of the right is in danger. Arab voters are advancing in droves toward the polling station.” These words came from the prime minister of modern-day Israel. If the term “Arab” was replaced with the word “black,” surely everyone would come to see the discriminatory rhetoric.  

Palestinians also face institutionalized discrimination within Israel. One example is the fact that Arab members of the Israeli Knesset hold a lesser status than their Jewish counterparts. When speaking their honest opinions, elected Arab politicians have been silenced and physically removed from Knesset meetings. Members of parliament affiliated with the Israeli right-wing have hurled racial epithets (e.g. “go back to Gaza, you animal”) at Arab politicians who criticize Israel.

Throughout day to day life, Palestinian citizens of Israel experience ordinary humiliations and strip searches when moving from one place to another, while Jewish citizens entering Israel have no trouble at all. Palestinians wanting to relocate to mainly Jewish communities face immense hardship and opposition as well, and Israeli law says that they can be blocked from migrating if they are deemed to be detrimental to the “social-cultural fabric of the community town.”

Unsurprisingly, this demonization of Palestinians living in Israel has impacted Israeli youth, and we learned last year the extent to which many young Israelis unashamedly profess their racism and hatred of Arabs. It is the prominent figures in Israel who demean Palestinians and the institutionalized inequalities within Israel that have led many young people to racial hatred.

Concern over civil rights is not the only reason to focus on Israeli policies, as the human rights records of some surrounding countries are absolutely abysmal. Israel, though, has set a high standard for itself; claims that the Jewish state “is on a level with the world’s great democracies” open the door for scrutiny. And policies and attitudes that so overtly contradict liberal principles must be changed if Israel is to call itself a true democracy. The gratuitous Nation-State Bill does not help Israel’s case, nor does the fact that a majority of Jewish Israelis favor separate buses for Palestinians (at a point, a majority of white American Southerners surely favored segregation as well). Americans must demand a change in Israel, not just of policies, but of attitudes as well. 

David Curtis is an intern with the Arab American Institute