Why can’t we have a “nation state law” over here?

Keir Starmer fails to condemn the racism of the Israeli state or to challenge far right racist views of an LBC phone-in caller

As the list of Labour Party CLP officers suspended continues to grow, party members cannot fail to notice the contrast between the treatment of members for ignoring the edicts of the General Secretary, supposedly based on zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, and the abject failure of Keir Starmer to challenge far-right racism on LBC.

One caller was the wife of a Millwall football fan who had booed players ‘taking the knee’. She complained that he was accused of being racist for booing. Obviously nothing could be further from the truth. She asked should white people also start playing ‘identity politics’ (like the BLM)? Apparently “if anything the racial inequality is against the indigenous people of Britain. We are set to become a minority by 2066.”

Faced with these comments Keir Starmer failed to challenge her racist outlook. For her the “indigenous British people” does not include Black people born here. Clearly when she speaks of “us” becoming a minority she is talking about white people. Yet Starmer did not even challenge this.

Interestingly, she cited the Nation State Law1 in Israel which gives “them” the “right to self-determination”. “Why can’t I as a white British female have that same right.” Of course, the “them” in Israel is not all Israelis but Israeli Jews. Israeli Arabs are denied the right to self-determination by law.

The reference to Israel and it’s nationality law is something which is a far right view. Remember Tommy Robinson’s love affair with Israel, a strong country which “looks after their own”. Indeed it has long been the case that fascists and even some anti-Semites are happy to support Israel, a place for Jews to go to, rather than being “over here”. They tend to view Islam/Muslims as the main enemy.

What Keir Starmer could have said was that the Israeli nationality law is a racist law which discriminates against 20% of the population and we wouldn’t have that sort of thing over here. After all, plenty of Jews found it abhorrent and said so, the notable exception being the Board of Deputies which refused to “interfere” in Israeli politics. Indeed even 55 members of the Israeli Knesset voted against it.

We have just recently seen the practical application of the Nation State Law in a court case taken out by Arab residents of what used to be the “Jewish city” of Carmiel. Around 6% of the population is now Arab, mostly well-off middle class. With no Arabic speaking schools in the town parents have to bus their children out of the area. In a legal case they asked for the state to cover the cost of transport. The Magistrate’s court judge rejected the claim on the grounds that providing services to Arabs would change the make-up of Carmiel, which he said was “a Jewish city which is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Galilee.” He also said

“Establishing an Arabic-language school… [and] funding school transportation for Arab students, for anyone who needs it anywhere, could change the demographic balance of the city and damage its character.”

He cited the Nation State Law as grounds for rejecting their case. “The development of Jewish settlement is a national value, one anchored in a basic law. It ought to be an appropriate and dominant consideration in the array of municipal consideration,” including the establishment of schools and the funding of transportation.

In 2010 when Arab citizens started moving into Carmiel, a hotline for anonymous callers was set up to report potential sales of land to Arabs.

“We need to prevent unnecessary conflict between Jews and Arabs,” deputy mayor Oren Milstein explained at the time. “We should be living one next to the other and not in such close proximity. Carmiel already has 1,000 Arab residents, and soon they will want a mosque.”

Obviously you cannot have a mosque in a “Jewish city” can you? Whatever next?

“To everyone who said that the nation-state law was not dangerous and merely symbolic, today’s ruling in Carmiel shows the direction. With rationales of ‘Jewish character’ it is possible to discriminate against Arabs — under the protection of the nation-state law,” said Joint List Member of the Knesset, Aida Touma-Suleiman, who called the law one which “establishes apartheid.”

The High Court of Justice is set to discuss an appeal by the Palestinian legal rights group, Adalah, against the nation-state law. The court has ordered the government to justify its position in the coming days.

“In the name of Jewish settlement as a national value, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel cannot even receive equal municipal services,” said Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, an attorney at Adalah.

Keir Starmer’s silence on the racist nature of the Nation State Law, when a far right supporter said why can’t “we” have one over here? is telling. You cannot speak of zero tolerance in relation to anti-Semitism and then stay silent on the racism of the Israeli state; not without suggesting that there is some hierarchy of racisms.

Of course, I cannot read Keir Starmer’s mind but what I suspect happened was that the caller’s citing of the Israeli Nation State Law, froze him. How could he deal with this without falling foul of the very people he has sought to placate, like the BOD, Jewish Chronicle etc? Even so it is extraordinary, even if he remained silent on that, that he did not challenge her assertion that “we” will be in a minority by 2066, a well-known far-right view. What would Black people think of this abject failure? So shocked were some of the Black Labour MPs that they tweeted their disgust, politely or otherwise.

If you cannot challenge the idea of an “indigenous” population which is clearly meant to mean white people, how can you campaign against racism and show that you will oppose all racism? Don’t be surprised if some Black people think that Labour is hot on anti-Semitism but not so bothered about anti-black racism. This is especially crucial given the fact that the labour movement has been, historically, infected with racism and national prejudices; even the trade unions. Think of the Bristol bus boycott against the colour bar supported by trade union officers, or the Imperial Typewiters strike in Leicester against racial job discrimination.

Starmer’s silence on the Israeli Nation State Law may be associated with his recently expressed view that he is “A Zionist without reservations”. In the Labour Party if you call Israel an apartheid state you are liable to be accused by supporters of that state of anti-Semitism. Whether you agree with the analogy or not (analogies are always illustrations – there are always similarities and differences between countries that are compared) it is entirely legitimate to express such an opinion which is a political view not about Jews but about about the Israeli state. Indeed read the Israeli English language press and you will read many Jewish Israelis writing that the Nation State Law has institutionalised a form of apartheid; some Israeli Jews think it was such even before the Law.

Ultimately political differences, differences of analysis, can only be resolved by political discussion, free from the threat of sanction. The decision to “hamper discussion”, to use Evans own words, has the impact of silencing those, including some Palestinian and Jewish members, from speaking out against the Israeli state. Such is the Mcarthyite atmosphere of fear created by this action that two parties have even banned discussion on support for a charity bike-ride raising funds for Palestinian children. How could that possibly be conceived to be anti-Semitic?

If the Labour Party is is to be seen as anti-racist Party, then it must oppose all types of racism. The question must be asked of Keir Starmer, do you think the Israeli Nation State Law is racist and discriminatory? Will you stand in support of those Israelis, Jews and Arabs, who oppose it? Will you call out the discrimination of the Israeli State against Arab Israeli citizens?

Martin Wicks

December 24th 2020

Appendix: Carmiel

The story of Carmiel is very much the story of the Israeli state and how it has discriminated against Arab citizens. The land which belonged to nearby Arab villages had been declared “a closed area” in 1956 and then expropriated in 1961 for the building of the new city.

At first all residents were Jewish. But over the past two decades well to do Arabs have started moving in. They now comprise 6% of the population, around 2,700 people.

A blog in The Times of Israel recently said, in relation to the court case over transport costs

“This is not only time-consuming and inconvenient, but relatively costly and a source of resentment. One can readily understand why Israeli Arabs, the victims of discrimination in jobs and housing, would feel mistreated and marginalised, or consider themselves second class citizens in a state that prides itself on a vibrant democracy. It comes as no surprise that some Arabs in Carmiel are rebelling against their status in Israeli society, finding it unfair, intolerable and untenable.”

As early as 1964 Arabs tried to move into the new town but were not allowed. In a debate in the Knesset it was said that the building of Carmiel was not built “to resolve the problems of people in the surrounding areas”. This was just code for Arabs are not welcome.

Carmiel is one of more than 700 communities the state has built for the Jewish population since Israel’s founding, compared with none built for the Arab population, apart from a few towns in the Negev designed for the “orderly resettlement of Bedouins” whose lands the state coveted.

Ironically, the apartheid land use policy which confiscates Arab land for Jews has led to the increasing phenomenon of Arab residents looking to find homes in nearby “Jewish” towns, because of the over-crowding in predominantly Arab towns and villages.

Underlying the dispute in relation to Carmiel lies the question of whether Israel should be a “Jewish state” or “a state of all its citizens”. In the opinion of this writer Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democratic one.

1The Nation State Law was passed by the Israeli Knesset in 2018, with 62 in favour and 55 against. It defines Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and adds that “fulfilling the right to national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also downgraded Arabic from an official state language to one with “special status.” It also says that “promoting Jewish settlement” is “a national value.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.