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Disappearing citizenship

July 20, 2010

The combination of constant travel and huddling deadlines have slowed down my posts considerably, but I had to comment on Uri Avnery’s latest column, ‘A Parliamentary Mob.’

Avnery maintains the following thesis: the Israeli Knesset, ‘the highest expression of democracy,’ poses the greatest threat to Israeli democracy. I don’t share Avnery’s views in full, on two grounds. First, Israel has no constitution, and while it outwardly bills itself as the ‘Middle East’s Only Democracy’ (Avnery rightly calls this the ‘jewel in the crown of Israeli propaganda’), the inward discourse of Israeli politics  has never pretended to enact or afford full rights for its Arab citizens, let alone for those it occupies. The greatest threat to Israeli democracy is not simply the Knesset, its most important political expression, but the supremacist nature of the state itself. Second, Avnery has a rather defensive attitude toward boycott, though he is opposed to the new boycott indemnity bill (a whopping $5,000 attached to every person who promotes boycott):

I object very much to a general boycott on Israel, but (following Voltaire) am ready to fight for everybody’s right to call for such a boycott. The real aim of the bill is, of course, to protect the settlements: it is designed to deter those who call for a boycott of the products of the settlements which exist on occupied land outside the borders of the state. This includes me and my friends.

While I am of the opinion that Avnery paints BDS (the worldwide movement of boycott, divestment and sanction) of Israeli institutions with a too-wide brushstroke, I’d prefer to address the parts of his analysis that provide an important distillation of how the Israeli parliament is aiding the disappearance of citizenship rights for Israel’s Arab citizens.

His comparison between MK Haneen Zoabi and MK Anastasia Mikhaeli is important. Zoabi, who was lauded as a hero for participating in the flotilla aid voyage to Gaza and weathering the unprecedented hostile attack from her colleagues in the Knesset afterward, has centuries of of roots in Nazareth. Michaeli, a member of Lieberman’s party who tried to physically attack and remove Zoabi by force, was born in Leningrad and converted before moving to Israel. Avnery’s comparison between Michaeli and Sarah Palin is particularly damning—not the former beauty queen part, but the sum effect of their racist and xenophobic vitriol.

But the real analytical contribution that Avnery makes is pointing out—where very few Israelis do, even from the so-called Left—that extremist MKs like Michael Ben-Ari are Kahanian heirs who are coaxing the shift of fascistic tendencies from ‘fringe’ to center of Israeli parliamentary life. When focusing on the stripping of Zoabi’s parliamentary/citizenship rights (not to mention the fate of Azmi Bishara, long exiled) most commentators don’t mention what these attack on Arab MKs will have when trickled down to Arab citizens of Israel:

There seems to be no limit to this parliamentary irresponsibility. All red lines have been crossed long ago. This does not concern only the parliamentary representation of more than 20% of Israel’s citizens, but there is a growing tendency towards depriving all Arab citizens of their citizenship altogether. (my emphasis)

Outside of Israel, one can be sure that the dominant streams of U.S. media, for all their fuss and fumble about democracy, have egregiously ignored the deterioration of political rights for Israel’s Arab citizens. Philip Weiss’ rhetorical question, ‘When is the “Times” going to run a furious piece about Knesset bills that discriminate against Palestinians?‘ has a humbug answer: don’t hold your breath.

(Photo by JR. Bedouins, Palestine: ‘In the middle of the country, under the rocks.’)

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