How Israel's left is missing the point

A discriminatory law which bans Palestinians from joining spouses within Israel was extended without

While Israeli PM Netanyahu's coalition seems steady, recent events like the response to the new anti-boycott law, the march for Palestinian independence, and the housing protests have some claiming a resurgent "peace camp". Yet the rhetoric by Israel's "left" has merely highlighted how much remains to be done to realise equality and basic Palestinian rights.

When the Knesset passed the anti-boycott law earlier this month, there was a huge outcry. Long-time activist Uri Avnery declared that the anti-boycott law "crosses the boundary between a democratic and a non- democratic society". The New York Times published an editorial saying that the legislation "seriously tarnished" Israel's "reputation as a vibrant democracy".

Days later, Israel's cabinet voted to extend another piece of legislation. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law bans Palestinians from the Occupied Territories from living with their spouses in Israel (for West Bank residents it depends on the individual's age). First passed as a "temporary" measure in 2003, it has been periodically renewed ever since. In 2006, the ('liberal') Israeli Supreme Court ruled against a legal challenge to the law.

As B'Tselem puts it, "the statute severely impairs the family life of tens of thousands of persons". To put it simply, this law prevents Palestinian families living together. That's why the EU Ambassador to Israel has previously slammed the legislation as "establishing a discriminatory regime to the detriment of Palestinians in the highly sensitive area of family rights".

Officially, the Israeli government justifies the law on the grounds of security, pointing to terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians who had entered Israel through family unification. But as a rationale for such a general prohibition this is inadequate: Israel's security services, after all, are able to approve entry for thousands of Palestinian workers.

In reality, says B'Tselem, the security argument is "baseless" and intended to "cover-up the real reason" for the law: trying to stop "the further increase of the Arab population in Israel in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state". In the words of then-minister without portfolio Gideon Ezra: "the state of Israel is not prepared to accept a creeping right of return; no one wants our state to cease to be a Jewish state". In 2005, the then-PM Ariel Sharon admitted: "There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state".

Where is the outrage over a law that was greeted by the right-wing news site Israel National News with the headline: "Cabinet Extends Measure Preventing 'Invasion by Marriage'"? Why, for Avnery and others, is the anti-boycott law -- and not the legally-sanctioned separation of Palestinian spouses -- the final straw? The key difference seems to be that the former will affect Jewish Israelis.

The ban on family unification is just one example, of course -- Israel's "vibrant democracy'"has long meant something rather different for Palestinians. But its renewal at the same time as the anti-boycott law dominated the headlines highlights the problematic politics of a mainstream Israeli left that seems more invigorated by a perceived urgency to "save Zionism" (i.e. through two-state ethnic separation) than by a fight against colonial occupation.

Ben White is a freelance journalist specialising in Israel/Palestine.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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No, William Hague, there's nothing anti-democratic about opposing Brexit

The former Tory leader appears to be suffering from a bout of amnesia. 

William Hague just made an eyecatching claim in the House of Lords during the debate over Article 50. He attacked those Remainers still seeking to restore Britain’s European Union membership in general and Tony Blair in particular, saying that if he had called on voters to “rise up” against New Labour after he lost the election, Blair would have told him to listen to the voters.

To be fair to Hague, it has been sixteen years since he went down to crushing defeat to Blair, so he may have forgotten some of the details. Happily, the full text of his resignation speech the morning after is still online.

Here’s Hague, 2001:

"The people have spoken. And just as it is vital to encourage everyone to participate in our democracy, so it is important to understand and respect the result. The Labour party have won the election and I have already congratulated them on doing so. But they have done so without great public enthusiasm….It is therefore a vital task for the Conservative party in the coming parliament to hold the government to account for the promises they have made and the trust people have placed in it.”

And here’s Blair, 2017:

“I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think. But the people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”

And here’s Blair’s last line which has so offended William Hague:

“This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”

This is funny, because here’s William Hague’s last line in 2001:

"I wish I could have led you to victory but now we must all work for our victories in the future.”

 Here’s what the “you lost, get over it” crowd have to explain: what is the difference between these two speeches? Both acknowledge a defeat, acknowledge the mountain to climb for the defeated side, but resolve to work harder to secure a better result next time.

It’s particularly galling when you remember that taking Britain back in would not require a second referendum but a third: because the Brexiteers, far from losing in 1975 and getting over it, spent four decades gearing up to take Britain out of the European Union.

There’s a more valid criticism to be had of the value of a continuity Remain campaign which appears to hold many of the people who voted to Leave in distaste. Certainly, at present, the various pro-Remain forces look more like the unattractive fringe that lost in 1975 than the well-disciplined machine that won the replay in 2016. But the fact there was a replay in the first place shows that there’s nothing anti-democratic about continuing to hold on to your beliefs after a defeat. What is anti-democratic is trying to claim that the result of any electoral contest, however narrow or how large, means that everyone who disagreed with you has to shut up and pretend you were right all along. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.