The National – 10 April 2010
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.
In an essay published by the Adalah legal centre, its director, Hassan Jabareen, proposes that Arab citizens and their municipalities challenge the endemic discrimination in Israeli society, and the courts’ frequent backing of it, by treating Jews in a similiar manner.
He proposes several examples of reverse discrimination that 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.
“Let us stop crying out about racism and instead let the Jewish majority feel for themselves the power of discrimination inside the Jewish state,” he said.
Mr Jabreen argues that, if Jewish groups launch legal battles against such discrimination, the courts’ rulings in their favour could be used by the Arab minority, a fifth of the population, to oppose similar examples of Jewish discrimination currently endorsed by Israel’s legal establishment.
“This is a possible new strategy that could be adopted by Arab lawyers to make fun of the Israeli legal system, to show its hypocrisy and contradictions,” he said. “And in this way we could as a community manipulate it to our own advantage.”
The proposal comes in the wake of a poll last week in which more than half of Israeli Jews equated marrying an Arab with national treason and three quarters said Jews and Arabs should not live in the same residential areas.
Israel has also been the subject of two critical recent reports on its treatment of Arab citizens: the US state department’s annual report on Israel documents a long list of human-rights abuses of the Arab minority, and a report by the Mossawa advocacy organisation assesses the current Israeli parliament as the most racist in the country’s history.
Mr Jabareen said the idea for the new strategy was prompted by two unusual legal cases Adalah is involved with.
In the first, Azad, an Arab-owned restaurant in the mixed northern city of Haifa, is being sued by a Jewish soldier after he was refused entry. The owner says he has the right to bar anyone wearing a military uniform, whereas the soldier claims he was discriminated against based on his appearance. The soldier is backed by the local municipality, which is seeking to close the restaurant.
“This case is a turning point,” Mr Jabareen said. “For the first time an Arab is discriminating against a Jew inside the Jewish state and is ready to fight his corner. And if the courts rule that the Jewish soldier was discriminated against because of his appearance, then we can use that ruling.
“There are many cafes and restaurants that bar Arabs because of their appearance – because, say, a woman is wearing the hijab – and little is done about it. This case has the power to shock Israeli society and show them the double standard.”
He said that the constitution committee in the parliament recently condemned the restaurant and is proposing new legislation to ensure such an incident never occurs again.
The other case involves a Jewish couple who are fighting their exclusively Jewish community of Nevatim in the Negev to be allowed to rent their home to Bedouin friends. Last month Israel’s Supreme Court supported Nevatim and ruled that the Bedouin couple should submit to a vetting committee. Hundreds of rural Jewish communities in Israel use such committees to block admission of Arab applicants.
“Here again, the case is unusual. For the first time, we have Jews standing with us, opposed to discrimination against Arabs. They are fighting from the inside.”
Mr Jabareen proposes that sympathetic Jews denied entrance to Arab-owned swimming pools or barred from living in Arab communities could bring test cases against such discrimination.
Far-right Jewish groups could be provoked into legal action too by municipalities that erect traffic signs only in Arabic, mirroring the policies of many Jewish communities that argue Hebrew-only signs reflect the language of the majority local population.
Mr Jabareen also suggests that an Arab firm could advertise a job open only to “candidates who did not serve in the army”. Currently many Jewish employers state that applicants must have served in the army, knowing that Arab citizens are exempted from conscription.
The Arab firm would lose, Mr Jabareen said, with the court certain to rule that military service was not a relevant criterion for job hiring. “The ruling would benefit Arab citizens, who are discriminated against in employment on a daily basis for not serving in the army.”
However, shop-owners in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Arab minority, were wary of the proposal – at least in public.
Jarjoura Kanaza, 48, who runs the historic El Babour spice mill, a popular attraction during weekends when Jewish communities shut down for the Sabbath, said he could not afford to turn away so many regular customers.
“Who would suffer from such a policy?” he said. “We would. The economy depends on the majority population. Our Jewish customers bring us a lot of business.”
Saleh Issa, whose Nazareth restaurant is only yards from the city’s biggest touristic draw, the Church of the Annunciation, said he had read about Mr Jabareen’s idea but was not persuaded.
“There is discrimination everywhere in Israel. I feel it every time I go to a Jewish city. But retaliating in kind is not the right approach. You have to treat people as you find them.”
However, one business owner, who wished not to be identified, said Mr Jabareen’s idea had some merit.
“It might make the Jewish population understand how it feels to suffer discrimination. But who would dare do it? People would be too frightened of the repercussions. You’d be denounced in the media, and there would be the threat of costly legal action.”
Last week’s survey, conducted by the Geocartography Institute, found there had been a sharp rise in racism among Israeli Jews compared to a similar poll two years ago. Some 40 per cent of respondents said Arabs should not be allowed to vote and 55 per cent said there should be segregation at entertainment sites.
The Mossawa report found that 21 bills that could be called discriminatory or racist were proposed in the Israeli parliament last year.