Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Right for a Right of Departure

It is no secret that Palestinian Israelis (or Arabs who are Israeli citizens) suffer systematic social and economic discrimination and that many Israeli Jews regard them as a fifth column. Lately, however, the religious and right wing leaders in Israel have renewed their questioning whether they have a place in Israel at all. At the beginning of March, Efi Eitam, a leader of the National Religious-National Front Coalition, warned Arab members of the Knesset who protested the Israel army's incursions in Gaza: "A day will come when we will expel you from this house [the Knesset] and the national homeland... we have to expel you to Gaza. The people that are fighting us live there and you belong there."

This past weekend, members of the National Religious and National Front parties, West Bank rabbis and other rightists had a conference in Ramle that examined the relationship of Israel to its minorities and the "stealthy conquest by Arabs of Israeli cities with mixed population," such as Jaffa, Haifa, Lod and Ramle. (Is it a sign of amnesia that once predominantly Arab towns are described as now being conquered by Arabs?) One of the speakers, M.K. Uri Ariel, emphasized Israel needs to encourage the voluntary emigration of Arabs. How nice, when the Palestinians' insistence on a right of return [to Israel] is a major obstacle to a peace deal, the folks at the conference are thinking about a Palestinian right of departure.

M.K. Ariel also called upon the government to develop programs that would make the mixed cities more attractive to Israeli Jews. In other words, using state resources for the benefit of only its Jewish citizens. But such notions about one sided allocation of resources is not peculiar to the right and religious, but shared by many people in the center. After all, Israel is the Jewish state. So when ex-President Carter said in his visit to Israel that he wanted to call attention to Israel's discrimination against its Palestinian citizens, the Israel ambassador to the UN called Carter a bigot. It was not a matter of Carter making false accusations, although Israelis perhaps rightly bristle at his use of the apartheid to describe results of administrative practices rather than legal codes. Rather his bigotry was to ignore the special right of the Jewish people in Israel.

Of course as the percent of Palestinians in Israel gets larger, more vocal and visible, to say nothing about the percent of Palestinians in the area west of the Jordan River, it is increasingly difficult for Israeli Jews to claim their system is also democratic. Hence Eitom, Ariel and their colleagues have a certain repugnant honesty: Keep the state Jewish and democratic by throwing anyone else out.

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