April 2010

Israel’s apologists are very exercised about the idea that Israel has been singled out for special scrutiny and criticism. I wish to argue, however, that in most discussions of Israel it actually gets off extremely lightly: that many features of the Israeli polity would be considered exceptional or extraordinary in any other democratic state. That is not surprising because, as I will argue, Israel is neither a liberal democracy nor even a “Jewish and democratic state”, as its supporters claim. It is an apartheid state, not only in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, but also inside Israel proper.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, has indicated he will defy an Israeli court that has ordered the demolition of 18 settler homes in the West Bank, in what is widely seen as a test of the government’s commitment to halting settlement expansion. The homes are to be found in what Israel terms “outposts” – small, land-hungry settlements it has promised the United States it will dismantle. Unlike the main settlements, which violate international law, the outposts are also illegal under Israeli law.

Two Israeli Arab brothers have won $8,000 in damages from Israel’s national carrier, El Al, after a court found that their treatment by the company’s security staff at a New York airport had been “abusive and unnecessary.” Abdel Wahab and Abdel Aziz Shalabi were assigned a female security guard who watched over them at the airport’s departure gate for nearly two hours, in full view of hundreds of fellow passengers, after they had passed the security and baggage checks.

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament is demanding that a newspaper be allowed to publish an investigative report that was suppressed days before Israel attacked Gaza in winter 2008. The investigation by Uri Blau, who has been in hiding since December to avoid arrest, concerned Israeli preparations for the impending assault on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead. In a highly unusual move, according to reports in the Israeli media, the army ordered the Haaretz newspaper to destroy all copies of an edition that included Mr Blau’s investigation after it had already gone to press. The article was never republished.

An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would “remove the gloves” to track him down. The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a “fugitive felon” and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

A leading Arab human-rights lawyer in Israel has suggested a novel and provocative approach to dealing with routine discrimination practised by Jews against Israel’s Arab minority: Arabs should start discriminating against Jews. Hassan Jabareen, director of the Adalah legal centre, proposes several examples of reverse discrimination the Arab minority might easily adopt: restaurants could deny Jews admission, Arab communities could refuse to put up roadsigns in Hebrew or bar Jews from buying homes, and Arab libraries could refuse to stock books on Jewish history.

What is misleadingly being called in Israel the “Anat Kamm espionage affair” is quickly revealing the dark underbelly of a nation that has worshipped for decades at the altar of a security state. Next week 23-year-old Kamm is due to stand trial for her life — or rather the state’s demand that she serve a life sentence for passing secret documents to an Israeli reporter, Uri Blau, of the liberal Haaretz daily. She is charged with spying. Blau himself is in hiding in London, facing, if not a Mossad hit squad, at least the stringent efforts of Israel’s security services to get him back to Israel.

A group of Jews and Arabs are fighting in the Israeli courts to be recognised as “Israelis”, a nationality currently denied them, in a case that officials fear may threaten the country’s self-declared status as a Jewish state. Israel refused to recognise an Israeli nationality at the country’s establishment in 1948, making an unusual distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality”. Although all Israelis qualify as “citizens of Israel”, the state is defined as belonging to the “Jewish nation”, meaning not only the 5.6 million Israeli Jews but also more than seven million Jews in the diaspora.