What banning Arab lists in Israel means.

Israel_votingI’ve argued in the past that you can’t really call the situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine “apartheid.”

My reasoning is that: a) what Israel is doing there already has a name, and that name is “military occupation,” and military occupation is plenty bad enough without having to resort to potentially a-historical comparisons; and b) within its internationally recognized borders, Israel is actually a functioning democracy (well, kind of a dysfunctional and threatened democracy, but still a democracy); and c) when you say things like “apartheid,” you grant official Israel and its supporters a Fast Pass to Discourse Derailment, and I’m not sure that fighting over the applicability of a certain word is always helpful to the cause of Palestinian rights.

And yet, having said all of that, I don’t actually argue very much when people say otherwise, because you know what? The occupation and settlement project look like apartheid, and the documented opinions of most Israeli Jews sound like apartheid, and if nothing changes, pretty soon Israel will have annexed the West Bank and it’ll actually be apartheid. Under the circumstances, I can certainly see why people choose to describe the situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine as “apartheid.”

But you know what would really seal the deal? This:

Right-wing lawmakers have asked the Central Elections Committee to bar United Arab List-Ta’al and Arab party Balad from the January 22 vote—citing support for the 2010 Gaza flotilla and the denial of Israel as a Jewish state.

Now, before I go any further, I should stress that no one is asking to bar the Arab (really Palestinian-Israeli) lists from the election by virtue of their being Arab (Palestinian-Israeli). If some of Israel’s Palestinian citizens some day form a political party that, say, happily endorses their constituents’ subservient position in their own country and refuses to get involved with the struggles of fellow Palestinians living anywhere from 10 miles to a few hundred yards away, I have no doubt that such a party will be spared attacks by Israel’s Jewish politicians.

But what this amounts to—and what it has always amounted to, every single time that someone has suggested barring this or that Palestinian-Israeli list or politician from the electoral process—is asking that Palestinian people who happen to have Israeli citizenship stop defining themselves as Palestinian. Stop being who they are. Stop being so non-Jewish. Stop being so Arab.

It’s really as simple as my favorite party trick: let’s flip the nouns around. What if Gentiles were telling Jews that, if we want to vote, we have to stop caring about Israel? What if someone wanted to make American Jews’ voting rights contingent on an endorsement of permanent second-class citizenship? I dare say we’d cry foul.

Israel’s citizens of Palestinian descent—who, by the way, make up about 20 percent of the population—already face a broad array of discriminatory practices and attitudes based entirely on their ethnic heritage, not least that no one in power really cares how they vote. Moreover, there is always someone, somewhere trying to bar this or that “Arab list” from participating in Israeli democracy. So this isn’t really news, per se.

But it bears noting that much as the word “apartheid” might be off-the-mark for now—it’s only just barely off the mark.

And the increasing ease and frequency with which Israeli leaders toy with making it a reality even within Israel’s internationally-recognized borders should be of real concern to those of us who care about Israel (no matter where we live)—especially given that the parties represented by these particular leaders are likely to help form the next government.

Crossposted from The Daily Beast/Open Zion.

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