The following is one of a series of radio commentaries (delivered in Canada for a program called “Shalom Radio”) by Dr. Stephen Scheinberg, emeritus professor of history at Montreal’s Concordia University and co-chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now:
Recently Israel’s Knesset voted, in its first reading [a preliminary step– ed.], to approve a bill which would make Jewish National Fund (JNF) lands available to Jews only. The vote was 64 to 15, meaning that support for it came not only from right wing parties but from the centrist parties of Labor and Kadima. The bill if passed in final reading would circumvent an Israeli high court decision and an attorney general’s ruling that opened the door to Arab bids for JNF lands.
I will remind you that less than half of the lands in question were purchased with JNF funds.
Most of the lands were so-called state lands, in fact confiscated from their original Arab owners by the state [mostly from Arabs who had fled or were forced from their land during the 1948 war– ed.] and then turned over to the JNF. Thus, Arab-Israeli citizens are being told that they are now ineligible to bid on the lands that their fathers once owned.
Of course the question arose as to whether the bill should be nullified because it was racist, in that it clearly discriminated against one-fifth of the citizens of Israel. The framers of the bill, seeking to avoid this charge, incorporated a clause saying that “the leasing of JNF lands for the purpose of settling Jews will not be seen as unacceptable discrimination.” Thus, the Knesset appropriates to itself the normal judicial function of judging discrimination.
Compounding this charade of good law making, in a curious opinion, the Knesset’s legal advisor, Nurit Elstein, declared that the bill might only be rejected if the racism was explicit in the proposal. I suppose that means that if the legislation avoids overt racism in its language but not in its impact, then it is, in her opinion, a proper exercise of the legislative function.
Arab MK Ahmed Tibi rightly characterized the bill as “institutionalized Jewish racism and ethnic democracy that is raging against anything Arab.” This latest example of the on-going discrimination against Arab-Israelis is, I believe, not only offensive to universal standards of human rights but against Israel’s own best interest.
We all know that there has been a worldwide campaign to characterize Israel as a racist state. For years we have confronted the charge that “Zionism is Racism” but the Knesset is now on the brink of giving Israel’s enemies all the proof that they need. In its statement the liberal-left Meretz party declared: “The Knesset is giving an excellent excuse for whoever is asking to represent Israel as an apartheid state which must be destroyed.”
Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations [the central body of Reform Judaism– ed.], in a more measured critique of the bill, stated that it was “not appropriate for the government of the state of Israel … to take actions which discriminate against its non-Jewish minority.” He added a cogent analogy, that it would be difficult to imagine diaspora Jews in any democratic country, accepting a bill denying Jews the right to purchase lands.
This bill will do more damage to Israel than all the vile propaganda currently flowing through the Arab world. Democratic nations are judged by their treatment of their minorities. The bill is a gift to Israel’s enemies. It represents the triumph of a narrow Jewish nationalism against elementary human rights and even good sense. The friends of a democratic Israel should do all in their power to oppose this legislation.