Advocates: Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law Constitutionally Enshrines Racism Against Palestinians

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A fragile ceasefire remains in effect after four Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed during violence Friday along the border with Gaza. During the flare-up, Israel launched dozens of strikes it said were targeted at Hamas rockets and mortars. The death of the Israeli soldier was the first since Palestinians launched weekly nonviolent protests at the border in March. Israeli forces have shot and killed at least 140 Palestinians during those protests, while wounding thousands of others. This comes as Israeli lawmakers drew condemnation Thursday for passing a law that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and gives them the sole right to self-determination. The law declares Hebrew the country’s only official language and encourages the building of Jewish-only settlements on occupied territory as a “national value.” We get response from Yousef Munayyer, executive director of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. She co-authored a new op-ed in The Independent headlined “As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist.”

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AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show in Israel, where a fragile ceasefire remains in effect after four Palestinians and one Israeli soldier [were] killed during violence Friday along the border with Gaza. During the flare-up, Israel launched dozens of strikes it said were targeted at Hamas rockets and mortars. The death of the Israeli soldier was the first since Palestinians launched weekly nonviolent protests at the border in March. Israeli forces have shot and killed at least 140 Palestinians during those protests, while well over 12,000 have been injured.

This comes as Israeli lawmakers drew condemnation Thursday for passing a law that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and gives them the sole right to self-determination. The law declares Hebrew the country’s only official language and encourages the building of Jewish-only settlements on occupied territory as a “national value.” This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: The controversial bill passed on a vote of 62 to 55, over the objection of Arab-Israeli lawmakers, who threw papers in the air in protest after its passage.

For more, we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. And joining us in studio, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, co-authored a new op-ed in The Independent headlined “As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist.”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Yousef, let’s begin with you. If you can talk about what’s happened in Gaza right now, the death toll up to 140, and then move on to the law that was just passed on Thursday?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Sure. Well, the most recent events that we’ve seen in the Gaza Strip are sort of a escalation that happens from time to time and forces, you know, many in the media and us here in the United States and the outside world to tune back in to Gaza, based on the fear that it is on the brink of yet another major Israeli bombardment. But the reality is that in those moments when we are not tuned in, the constant and structural violence that Palestinians in Gaza face because of the occupation, because of the policies of Israeli siege and because of the violent methods of enforcement that the Israeli military uses to support those policies, continues all the time.

And this is, altogether, part of a broader agenda by the state of Israel to quell any sort of resistance to what it seeks to do throughout the entirety of the territory, which is to impose its will on the native population of Palestinians, both in the West Bank, in Gaza, in occupied territories, but also on Palestinian citizens of Israel, under the premise that it is the Jewish population that is in control, that deserves to be in control, and that any rights at all that may be afforded to, you know, non-Jews are really done as a favor, and not something that the Jewish state has to do because of principles of equality or tolerance or democracy or anything like that.

And the most recent step that the Israeli Knesset has taken, through the passage of this law, I think, is the best proof of that, showing very clearly that the Israelis no longer care about, you know, even pretending to balance this notion of being a Jewish state and a democracy. You know, I think that was never the case. Now it’s clear that they’re not even interested in pretending anymore. And, in fact, the initiator and sponsor of this legislation said, after its passage, “We are passing this bill to make sure that no one has any doubt, or even any thoughts, about Israel being a state of all its citizens. So it’s very clearly aimed at enshrining inequality, enshrining apartheid, in a constitutional way within Israeli law.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca Vilkomerson, if you can respond to this, what’s being called the nation-state law that’s been passed?

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah. I mean, I think what Yousef said is exactly right. I think I found it shocking, but not surprising, because I think anytime you have a set of, again, foundational law—this is a basic law, so it’s sort of the equivalent of a constitutional bill that will then have an impact on any future laws. And it basically obligates the state to treat its non-Jewish citizens unequally. And that’s 20 percent of the overall Israeli population. So, by Israel enshrining racism and discrimination and apartheid into its basic law, that’s pretty shocking, at the same time not that surprising because of the ongoing policies that Israel has been pursuing for so many decades.

AMY GOODMAN: And the response of the Jewish community?

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Well, here in the United States, I think it’s been interesting, because there’s much more unanimity than there usually is against this bill—you know, everyone, from J Street to the American Jewish Committee to the Reform and Conservative movements, which together represent half of American Jewry. Even some right-wing organizations like the ADL have had some limited concerns about the bill. And I think it’s a reflection of—you know, Peter Beinart sort of had this seminal essay that he wrote in 2010, which talked about the ways that the Israeli—the Jewish Israeli population was moving to the right, and the American Jewish population is staying sort of liberal and progressive, and there’s a split that’s happening. And I think we’re seeing the fruition of that, and people are just horrified by the sort of extreme-right-wing agenda that I think the Netanyahu government is feeling empowered by the Trump administration to enact fully.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece in The Independent, signed by—well, about how 40 Jewish groups from 15 different countries have signed this joint statement—

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —condemning attempts to stifle criticism with false—

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —accusations, you say, of anti-Semitism.

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Right. This is a pretty historic moment. Again, we had 40 organizations from around the world, Jewish and Israeli organizations. And we felt like it was very important, because there are so many efforts right now, worldwide, lots of different specific strategies and tactics, but worldwide, trying to legislate definitions of anti-Semitism, that sometimes include chilling language, at the very minimum, and sometimes actually legislate that forms of anti-Zionism or certain critiques of Israel would be defined as anti-Semitic. And this has resulted in bank accounts being shut down in Germany and in the U.K., people being prosecuted in France. Here in the United States, there’s something called the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would make it potentially, you know, extremely difficult for people to speak out politically against Israeli human rights violations. So we felt it was very important to lend a Jewish voice against that and to say that BDS is a legitimate tactic to be using in this particular moment. That’s Boycott—

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re talking about the Boycott, Divestment—

REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —and Sanctions movement. Yousef Munayyer, what happens from here, after this law is passed, and also in Gaza?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, I think there’s great concern for what may happen in Gaza in the coming months. Of course, as we know, in the major Israeli bombardments of Gaza in 2008, 2009, and in the fall of 2012, in the summer of 2014, all of them preceded Israeli elections by a matter of months. And we are, you know, expecting Israeli elections in 2019. And given the recent behavior of the ruling coalition, with the passage of all kinds of right-wing legislation aimed at rallying the support of its base, I would not be surprised if they were to attempt another sort of massive operation against the Palestinian population in Gaza ahead of elections once again. So that’s something that I would definitely keep my eye on. But I—

AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Munayyer—we have to leave it there for now—US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace.

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