After the Knesset passed Yariv Levin’s law, condemnations poured in but critics were unable to block the impact of this law which divides Palestinians into religious minorities vis-à-vis a Jewish majority. At the forefront of those who stand to be affected by this law are Christian Palestinians inside 1948 Palestine.
Nazareth: On February 24, the Israeli Knesset approved a law proposed by MK Yariv Levin of the Likud Party – who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in its second and third reading by 31 to six votes.
This law is the latest in a series of laws that parties in Netanyahu’s government are trying to pass to isolate Christian Palestinians from the rest of the 1948 Palestinian population.
The law abolishes representation of the Palestinian population on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and replaces it with representation based on sect and religion. So the commission will include representatives for Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians. They will also increase the number of representatives of Western Ashkenazi Haredi Jews, Eastern Sephardic Haredim Jews, and Ethiopian immigrants.
This law is the latest in a series of laws that parties in Netanyahu’s government are trying to pass to isolate Christian Palestinians from the rest of the 1948 Palestinian population. These laws started with another attempt to replace a person’s nationality with their religious sect on Israeli ID cards that residents of occupied Jerusalem and 1948 Palestinians carry. Because the proposal was rejected however, Levin set up a new trap when he suggested changing the law on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by expanding representation on the commission on a purely sectarian basis. This angered the commission itself, which reported its opposition to this unnecessary law.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established by the Israeli Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 2008 and its purpose was to increase workers’ awareness of discrimination, in the absence of equality among labor organizations in Israel, and to eliminate policies that violate the rights of Arab workers.
To understand what is being planned in the Knesset to be imposed on Palestinian Arabs as the new reality, we went to the director of the social and economic rights unit at the Adalah legal center, attorney Sawsan Zaher, who said: “The law aims at replacing the representation of Palestinian Arab citizens with sectarian representation and was passed without adequate discussion in front of the concerned public that will be affected by this law.” She adds: “Legally speaking, what Levin did is malicious and deceptive. It is a double trap because any objection may be rejected under the pretext that this law will increase Arab representation on the commission, neglecting the gravity of the situation after the enactment of the law. Within the Arab community, there are no organizations that represent Arab workers on a sectarian basis (Muslim, Christian and Druze) in the first place.”
This, according to Zaher, will cripple the original work of the commission which is “defending the rights of Arab workers and will squander their rights on the advisory commission, not to mention that the law violates Arab representation.” She believes that the political motive behind the law is a colonial one, “similar to the approach adopted by the apartheid government in South Africa to divide the indigenous population into small groups along parochial identities instead of treating them as a nation.”
Netanyahu recommended last August that a joint forum comprising of representatives of the government and Christians in Israel be established to encourage the recruitment of Christians to the Israeli army and the national civil service and their eventual integration into the state.
Is it a new trap that paves the way towards recognizing Israel as a Jewish state? Zaher replies: “It reinforces the Jewishness of the state because the Palestinians of 1948 are the only indigenous national minority. When the Palestinian population’s national character is taken away, they will be divided into small sects that are worthless in terms of any representation. This in turn will make it easier for the Israeli government to continue its policy of racial discrimination against them since land confiscation and demolishing houses did not do the job.”
Palestinian civil society organizations inside Israel denounced the law and said that it is a dangerous step which distorts the Arab Palestinian identity in 1948 Palestine. In a statement about the law, they added: “Despite the marginal effect that we expect, the motives behind it are racist and it is a sign of more racist policies to come, ultimately gaining recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and denying the Palestinian presence and Palestinians’ historical rights.”
Israeli scare tactics
When the Palestinian population’s national character is taken away, they will be divided into small sects that are worthless in terms of any representation.
National Democratic Rally MK Basel Ghattas says that the Levin law names the minorities in the makeup of the advisory commission which is going to become a body without powers. “This is a plan led by the Israeli government to start treating Palestinian Christians as though they were an independent group different from Muslims.”
Ghattas adds: “It is the same divide and conquer policy to control minorities. But Levin has strong psychological influence in the media and he [repeatedly] uses the word ‘Christian’ and says that he will find a system to represent them but it is in fact a plan to separate Christians from their milieu and exploit what is happening in the Arab world to scare them of the future.” He goes on: “The majority of Christians oppose this Zionist project and we are aware of its danger.”
The MK gives an example of what he is saying. He points out that Israel succeeded under the martial law it imposed on the Palestinians that managed to stay in Israel after 1948 to deceive the Druze and distort their identity. “But the situation is different today, that is why we are going to hold a comprehensive national conference this month in Nazareth with the participation of national political parties and youth organizations as well as religious figures to discuss the question of the conscription of the Druze community and the military recruitment of Christians.”
The discriminatory policies of the Israeli government, which is controlled by right-wing political parties, show that they are using Christians and trying to separate them from their Palestinian Arab brethren and exploit their status as a small minority. The Israeli government is attempting to market itself as the only democracy in the Middle East that is going to embrace Christians and protect them, not intimidate and fight them.