‘The Law In These Parts’ — POV film on PBS

‘The Law In These Parts’ — POV film on PBS

Although definitely of interest for Israel/Palestine junkies, “The Law In These Parts” was less artful than “The Gatekeepers,” and especially challenging to follow if you are not fluent in Hebrew.  As is often a problem with subtitles, they were almost unreadable when presented against a similar color background.  

Albeit chilling, its message was not as clear as “The Gatekeepers,” where all six retired Shin Bet directors concluded that the status quo was unsustainable and the national leadership had failed to resolve the conflict politically.  Most of the retired judges interviewed in “The Law In These Parts” did not voice such a conclusion.  But they all seemed willing to admit that the system of laws in the Territories was not enforced with justice in mind.

At least two emphasized Israel’s responsibility as the occupying power to maintain public order and the basic functioning of civilian society in the wake of Israel’s victory in 1967.  Only one, as I recall, echoed “The Gatekeepers” in opining that the occupation’s jurisdiction was appropriate only on a temporary basis, not for the long term.  All understandably emphasized Israel’s need to maintain the security of its own population.  One proudly observed how he had advised Ariel Sharon, then the minister of agriculture, of an obscure Ottoman Turkish-era law which became the legalistic justification for Israel to seize unused rural Palestinian land as “state land,” upon which settlements were built.    

The panel that followed on WNET/Channel 13 in New York City consisted of: J Street U director Daniel May, The Nation’s Roane Carey, Fordham law professor Thane Rosenbaum, and Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney of Palestinian background, who is currently a teaching fellow at the law school of Temple University.  As a supporter of J Street, I basically agreed with everything that Daniel May said, but I wish that he and the other speakers had more expertly addressed the problem of Hamas control of Gaza. Only Rosenbaum — who was more protective of Israeli policies than I would be — mentioned Hamas as a complicating factor for peace efforts.

Thane Rosenbaum  
Rosenbaum was once the book review editor for Tikkun (he is an accomplished author of fiction, as well as a legal scholar); his relative conservatism on Israel may have sparked his break with Tikkun.  I was surprised that he did not give the Palestinian Authority credit for making material progress under Fayyad and cooperating with Israel in anti-terrorism efforts.  Roane Carey was Rosenbaum’s mirror opposite in extolling Palestinian goodwill, without mentioning the problem of the divide with Hamas and all the bad will that Hamas represents.  
Noura Erakat

Ms. Erakat was sharp in her observations.  She put the spotlight on the second-class status of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, but I wish that the panelists had discussed more specifics.  She’s right that Jews and Arabs are viewed as having separate nationalities and that there is little or no sense of a common Israeli nationality; I hope this changes one day.  

Rosenbaum responded plaintively that Israel is meant to be a “Jewish state” and asked, what’s wrong with one country in the world defining itself as such?  He might have added that Israel is the only place where Jews are guaranteed sanctuary if they are again subject to persecution or mass murder.  A more complete answer would also mention that Israel exists in a part of the world in which just about all other countries openly identify themselves as either Islamic or Arab, and minorities suffer discrimination or worse (sometimes much worse).

Israel is less bad in this regard, but far from perfect.  Legally, Arab citizens of Israel are guaranteed their rights, but in practice, they suffer discrimination in employment, housing, the distribution of public funds and in the implementation of public policy goals.  Erakat scored (if you were keeping score) in citing the ongoing displacement of Negev Bedouin communities, but referred to them somewhat simplistically as Palestinians.  (Bedouins are an Arab cultural group with a distinct trans-national history.)

We supporters of a two-state solution need to defend Israel as a Jewish state in both a more assertive and more nuanced way.  Israel is the Jewish state that the UN endorsed with its partition resolution in Nov. 1947 and that the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League violently rejected. What is lost in this acrimony over the Israeli demand under Netanyahu that the Palestinians accept Israel explicitly as a Jewish state is that this doesn’t mean that Israel needs to be exclusively Jewish, nor that the rights of its Arab and other minorities need be compromised.

Mahmoud Abbas lost an opportunity, when he spoke last year at the UN, to emphasize that the PA’s new status as an observer state is meant to fully implement that original UN resolution; in other words, that now the Palestinians are accepting Israel as the Jewish state, with Palestine being the new Arab state originally called for in 1947.  He could endorse the notion of Israel as a Jewish state as defined in its Declaration of Independence, protecting the rights of all its citizens: “The State of Israel … will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex. . .”

It is a high bar that Israel has set for itself, especially given its rough neighborhood and the emotional and physical toll that its population has endured from the seemingly endless conflict.  But Israel will never be fully at peace as a Jewish state until it is also a welcoming home for its Arab minority.   

By | 2013-08-29T12:00:00-04:00 August 29th, 2013|Blog|11 Comments


  1. Anonymous August 29, 2013 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I don’t know if this statement you made is a deliberate effort to obfuscate reality or reflects basic ignorance on your part, “Legally, Arab citizens of Israel are guaranteed their rights, but in practice, they suffer discrimination in employment, housing, the distribution of public funds and in the implementation of public policy goals.” Again, it would seem hard for anyone involved in this issue for years, and supposedly committed to equal rights to know that your statement is just plain false.

    Palestinian citizens don’t just suffer from discrimination in practice, they suffer from discrimination that is enshrined in laws, ie, legally they are not guaranteed their right. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, notes that: “There are more than 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures.”

    These 50 discriminatory Israeli laws cannot be reconciled with your claims that “Legally, Arab citizens of Israel are guaranteed their rights.”

    It is also completely inappropriate for people who claim to be working for equal rights and eliminating discrimination to be labeling Noura Erakat’s description of Israel’s discrimination against its Palestinian citizens as “scoring points.”

    Good luck with your efforts to create partnerships between Meretz and Hadash, Balad etc., on this basis.


  2. Ralph Seliger August 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    I never meant to leave the impression that there isn’t discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, and I specified where this unequal treatment exists, including most of the same areas mentioned by Adalah. Israel’s “basic law,” which includes its Declaration of Independence and some other legal foundations in iieu of a written constitution, mandates equal treatment for all its citizens. Israel does not live up to this high bar it sets for itself in its basic law.

    My point that Israel treats its minorities better than virtually all other countries in the region is verified by following the news in recent years. But this does not obviate Israel’s need, in its own self-interest, to treat its Arab population more equitably, as the Labor-Meretz government led by Rabin & Peres was beginning to do from 1992 until its untimely & tragic end.

  3. Anonymous August 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    Despite your efforts at equivocation (avoiding acknowledging that your statement here was wrong “Legally, Arab citizens of Israel are guaranteed their rights”), this sure look like insidious, nuanced anti-human rights distortion to me that should be written up in the LRB.

    And the “we treat minorities better than…” argument – itself a distortion because it leaves out Palestinians living under Israeli rule in the OPT for 46 years as well as refugees denied their basic rights – is again equivocation, and not an argument worth making.


  4. Ralph Seliger August 29, 2013 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Once again, Ted has proven that he’s totally uninterested in constructive dialogue.

  5. Anonymous August 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    There’s no “constructive dialogue” about factually inaccuracies. They should just be corrected.

    Similarly, no constructive dialogue about human rights abuses and discrimination. They need to end.


  6. Ralph Seliger August 29, 2013 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    The conflict is much more complicated than Ted makes it out to be. It’s not a simple question of “inaccuracies,” “human rights abuses and discrimination.” Ted consistently refuses to see areas of agreement & common ground, while totally denigrating our views & values. This is no way to make progress in resolving a truly vexing and difficult conflict.

  7. Anonymous September 1, 2013 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    There should be no common ground based on obfuscation, that is why we have none until now. You’ve provided a great example of obfuscation in this post and responding to my comments here.

    You’ve avoided acknowledging that this statement you wrote was factually incorrect: “Legally, Arab citizens of Israel are guaranteed their rights, but in practice, they suffer discrimination in employment, housing, the distribution of public funds and in the implementation of public policy goals.”In fact, Palestinian citizens of Israel are legally discriminated against.

    You seem to have attempted to pretend that the 50 discriminatory laws Adalah documents were somehow covered by this part of your atatement “in practice, they suffer discrimination in employment, housing, the distribution of public funds and in the implementation of public policy goals.” But if you look at the laws Adalah mentions they are mostly unrelated to these issues you mentioned.

    Even more incredibly you wrote, “Israel’s “basic law,” which includes its Declaration of Independence and some other legal foundations in iieu of a written constitution, mandates equal treatment for all its citizens. Israel does not live up to this high bar it sets for itself in its basic law.”

    Equal treatment for all citizens is not a “high bar.” It is an obligation. And again, your likely comeback that Egypt or whoever else discriminates is no excuse for Israel’s discrimination.

    Don’t complain about a lack of common ground and agreement when you are serving as an apologist for and whitewashing discrimination.


  8. Ralph Seliger September 3, 2013 at 12:45 am - Reply

    We met with representatives of Adalah on an organizational trip to Israel a few years ago. Adalah is a grantee of the New Israel Fund, a liberal Zionist group that we are close to. In fact, a former Meretz MK, Naomi Chazan, was president of the NIF.

    I’m not sure of the exact number of discriminatory laws that Adalah documents. Many are still bills, that may or may not become laws. Almost all of these are opposed by the Meretz party. And Israeli courts sometimes rule against such laws.

    If you want to see me, Partners for Progressive Israel or the Meretz party as “whitewashing discrimination,” or being your enemy, I can’t stop you. But you’re missing the fact that we are allied in a movement that works for equality under the law for all Israeli citizens.

    Establishing equality under the law in a country with ethnic groups and minorities in conflict IS a “high bar,” historically, because it’s difficult for groups in conflict to trust each other. The fact that ethnic & religious hatreds happen to be so deep and violent in the Mideast is no excuse, but it doesn’t help.

  9. C. Bendavid November 3, 2013 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Sorry Ralph, but you should not let Ted harass you the way he does. 100% of what he says is entirely false. First of all, the so-called 50 racist laws are either distorted or merely fabricated. For example, Adalah cites the fact that the Israeli flag features a star of David or that only Jewish holidays are official holidays as racist policies. Well, many European countries such as the UK, Greece or Sweden have a cross on their flag and in ALL Western countries, only christian holidays are official holidays. Does it mean that Jews living in the Western world are Second class citizens?!

    Adalah also cites the Law of Return which privileges Jewish immigration. Well, this is totally legal. Israel has no right to privilege its Jewish citizens, but it does have the right to privilege a Jewish immigration. This right clearly is recognized by both, UN and UE conventions (the Venice convention to be precise).

    I could go on and enumerate all the other distortions made by Adalah. For example, Adalah claims that the admission panels that have the authority to refuse new comers into a municipality makes it possible for Jewish towns to refuse Arab candidates. This is false. These admission panels do not have the right to reject people on the basis of their ethnicity or their religion, this is clearly specified in the law.

    You also have the fact that Palestinians who get married to Israeli Arabs can’t immigrate to Israel anymore, even under the framework of family reunification. However, the Supreme Court upheld this decision because Israel considers itself at war with the Palestinians and no country in the world has the obligation to accept immigrants from an enemy state.

    Last but not least, Adalah accuses Israel of perpetrating an ”ethnic cleansing” in the Neguev against the Bedouins. Well, the IDF plans to build military basis in the region, and in order to do so, people must be expropriated. Recently, the Begin-Prawer plan proposed to compensate the Bedouins who will be displaced by offering them lands nearby the place they live right now and all sorts of programs aiming to increase the standard of living in this community. Of course, one can disagree with the idea of building IDF basis in this area. Personally, I don’t like this project. I don’t think that it’s vital for the security of Israel. However, wanting to expropriate people in order to build a military basis has nothing to do with an ethnic cleansing! Otherwise, everytime farmers are being expropriated in Western countries in order to build a highway or an airport, this should be called ”ethnic cleansing” as well!

  10. C. Bendavid November 3, 2013 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Part 2

    By the way, you’ll never hear Adalah mentioning the fact that Israel is one of the states in the world which has the most advanced affirmative action policy. 30% of new jobs in the Israeli civil service are reserved for Arabs. Also, businesses get tax breaks if they increase the proportion of Arab employees and Arab municipalities get equalization payments to make sure that even if they are poorer, they can provide quality services for their population. I could also mention affirmative action programs in universities, etc. Sorry, but Arabs and Blacks in France represent around 20% of the population (the same as the Arabs in Israel), but you’ll never hear any French politician, even on the far left, saying that the law should oblige 30% of new hires in the civil service to be either Arabs or Blacks.

    Finally, you also mention in your article that the absence of an Israeli territorial (civic) nation, is sad and even discriminatory. Well, this is a very complicated issue. In Eastern Europe (where the founding fathers of Israel came from), a nation is a cultural community, not a territorial one. This conception of nationhood is inspired from Otto Bauer and Karl Renner’s model of ”national-cultural autonomy”, whereby in a multicultural country where two populations identify with two different nationalities, the nation has to be disconnected from the state and a distinction has to be made between citizenship and nationality. Westerners (especially on the left), dislike this idea. They believe that this is tantamount to ”ethnic nationalism”. Well, the problem with Western countries (which normally define their nationality identities on territorial-civic basis), is that in these states, all citizens are required to share the same nationality (because the nationality and the citizenship are merged). Thus, in these countries, it becomes impossible to recognize national minorites. No wonder why Corsicans, Catalans and Basques are not recognized as nations, even if they ask for it. Frankly, I don’t think that importing the Western model to Israel would be wise. If Israel were to do so, Israeli Arabs would no longer be recognized as a national minority, but merely as a cultural one. Seriously, I don’t think that Israeli Arabs would be pleased to be recognized merely as Israelis who happen to speak Arabic at home. They want their national identity to be recognized by the state. They are not Oriental Jews, they are part of the Palestinian people!


    C. Bendavid

  11. C. Bendavid November 3, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Part 3


    Two prominent members of the Israeli Peace Camp, Alex Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein, have written an excellent book which debunks all the myths of the anti-Israel propaganda of the extreme-left (this propagada was very marginal before the advent of the internet in the 1990’s, which has become the main source of documentation for so many people like Ted or Roger Waters!)

    Alexander Yakobson, Amnon Rubinstein. Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human Rights. London: Routledge, 2008. x + 246 pp. (cloth), ISBN

Leave A Comment