Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Is Not Comparable to "Advanced Western Democracies"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Is Not Comparable to "Advanced Western Democracies"

Article excerpt

The Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989 relating to Israel and the occupied territories is replete with contradictions. These contradictions stem from two opposite and irreconcilable findings: One is that "Israel's Arab citizens have...not shared fully in the rights granted to Jewish citizens." The second is that "Israel is a democracy...whose citizens have a range of civil and other rights generally comparable to those in advanced Western democracies."

If the State Department's finding that Israel's Arab citizens do not have equal rights with their Jewish counterparts is correct, it is hard to accept its finding that Israel is comparable to advanced Western democracies. The Department of State has observed that "Israel welcomes Jewish immigrants...to whom it gives automatic citizenship and residence rights," while it denies such citizenship and residence rights to Palestinians living in refugee camps in the West Bank and in Gaza who were born in Israel, and whose very lands Israel has expropriated and holds "in trust for the Jewish people."

The Department of State's finding that Israel gives automatic citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants is related to "a series of basic laws" of the state of Israel, which define "the responsibilities of government institutions."

The first such law is Israel's 1950 law of return, which allows any person "born to a Jewish mother," or one "who converts to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion," to immigrate to Israel.

The second basic law is Israel's 1952 citizenship law, which allows Jewish immigrants to Israel to acquire Israeli citizenship automatically upon their arrival.

The third is Israel's registration law, which classifies Israel's citizens as either of "Jewish nationality," or of "Arab nationality." Israel has no Israeli nationality. Citizenship and nationality are not equivalent in Israel.

The fourth basic law is Israel's status law, which gives Israel's citizens with "Jewish nationality" certain rights and privileges which are denied to Israel's citizens with "Arab nationality." Several of these rights and privileges have been enumerated in this year's and in prior years' reports. Chief among these rights is the ownership or use of the very land which was expropriated from the Palestinians.

It is these laws which compelled the UN in 1975 to describe Zionism as a "form of racism and racial discrimination" in view of the 1965 UN resolution 2106, which defined racism as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin." The denial of citizenship to Palestinians reported by the State Department is based on descent and is thus patently racist. The Department of State does a grave disservice to "advanced Western democracies" by suggesting that Israel, with its legalized racist structure, can be favorably compared to them.

The Report contains several objective observations about Israel's human rights violations in Israel and in the occupied territories which should be noted. The "emergency regulations," which have been in force since 1948, have been enforced primarily against Israelis with Arab nationality, permitting their mail "to be stopped, opened, and even destroyed on security grounds." In 1979, Israel enacted a law, applied mostly against Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens, allowing "rapping of telephones for security reasons. …

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