'Jews-Only' Law Ignites Firestorm
By Bradley Burston
Ha'aretz Correspondent

A proposed law that would allow Jews to bar Arabs from buying homes in their communities could expose Israel to a fresh wave of condemnation recalling the now-rescinded UN resolution equating Zionism and racism, critics of the bill said Wednesday.
In a decision that set off a storm of debate, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet Sunday voted to endorse a bill that would allow areas within Israel which have been designated as state land to be devoted to residential use by Jews alone. The bill still faces considerable legislative hurdles before it can be passed into law.
Although worded in the gray phraseology of legislative practice, the measure goes to the heart of a crucial dichotomy of modern Israel: how to maintain a pluralistic state that is at once formally Jewish in character and genuinely democratic in practice.
"If we are not already totally an apartheid state, we are getting much, much closer to it," said former cabinet minister and leftist Meretz party founder Shulamit Aloni.
"We are also moving farther and farther away from the founding document of the state of Israel," she said, in a reference to the nation's 1948 Declaration of Independence, which pledged "development of the country for the benefit of all its residents" and "complete social and political equality to all its citizens, regardless of religion, race, or gender."
The bill was prompted by a landmark Supreme Court ruling over the efforts of the northern Israel Jewish village of Katzir to bar an Israel Arab from buying a house there. Although defined as a "community settlement", without the complex communal interrelationships of kibbutzim and moshavim, Katzir residents voted to keep Israeli Arab Adel Ka'adan from buying a plot and building a house there.
After years of legal wrangling, the court in March, 2000, accepted Ka'adan's argument that the policy of the Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental body which adminsters state lands for many Jewish villages, discriminated against Arab citizens and was therefore illegal.
Sponsored by National Religious Party MK Haim Druckman, critics said the proposed law was designed to bypass the court decision, formalizing descimination on Israel's lawbooks.
Education Minister Limon Livnat, who spearheaded the cabinet decision to ratify the bill, said the purpose of the measure was to clarify de facto policies in founding specifically Jewish communities within the nation. "This does not stem at all from discrimination, rather from the main basis of Zionism - the return of the Jewish people to its land."
Livnat dismissed suggestions that the bill was anti-democratic, saying that each sector in israel should be allowed to live among its own. Moreover, she said, "All of us were raised on the same Zionist values, according to which, the state of Israel may, from the standpoint of national security - the wider view of security, not necessarily of concrete security ... foster the value of a Galilee with a Jewish majority."
But cabinet minister Dan Meridor, a conspicuous dissenter as the cabinet endorsed the bill by a wide margin, denounced the proposed law as "a grave error" and "flagrantly discriminatory".
"It is not permissible to allow an Israeli law to state that a non-Jew may be prevented from living in a particular place for security reasons," Meridor said. "This is not a security matter at all. There is no need for flagrant discrimination." Indeed, he said, by contrast to discrimination that Jews have experienced in the Diaspora, the Jewish state legally does not discriminate against non-Jews.
"As to the charges that Zionism is racism - what are we ourselves saying here?"
In one of the darkest moments of Israeli diplomacy, the United Nations passed a resolution in 1975 declaring that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." Despite strenuous lobbying efforts by Israel, the resolution remained on the books until the Gulf War and the subsequent Madrid Middle East peace conference led the world body to rescind the Zionism is racism measure in December, 1991.
Over the past two years, however, the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, coupled with open warfare betwen the sides, have revived Arab-led denunciations of Israel as a state that practices racism akin to South Africa's long-repealed apartheid regulations that overtly favored whites over blacks and people of mixed race.
Aloni, an attorney, said Israel had already put segregation into effect in a number of ways, among them in appropriating Arab-owned land, designating it as "state land," and earmarking it for use by specifically Jewish towns and villages. She angrily dismissed suggestions that the law was an outgrowth of Israeli-Arab rioting at the outset of the current Palestinian uprising. "If you see this as a life-and-death matter, that means that the state of Israel views its Arab citizens as the enemy."
"Perhaps we should turn every Israeli Arab village into a detention camp, like we do in the occupied territories, so that Druckman and the rest of the messianics could take away their land as well," Aloni said. "By the right of our might, we are acting as a racist nation. South Africa, as well, was white and democratic. But that was not the intention here."
The debate over the law split Ariel Sharon's ruling Likud party, with Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, in the past a relative moderate on such issues, left sitting firmly on the fence. "Legislation such as this has international repercussions that are not good for the state of Israel," said Sheetrit, who abstained in the Sunday cabinet vote.
"I don't think that this must be made into law. I don't believe that you should make a law that specifies that one discriminates against someone from the standpoint of his rights in the state of Israel. On the other hand, I can certainly understand that there are population groups in Israel who wish to live apart, particularly community settlements, like Bedouin, Arab, Jewish, Christian or any other category for that matter."
Asked why he refrained from voting against the proposed law, Sheetrit said, "There is a central question on this point - Is there a conflict between the values of a Jewish state and of a democratic state? If such a conflict does exist, it must be reduced to the minimum.
"We must reach an understanding, but not by means of laws or Supreme Court appeals to force people to accept into their midst people who will spur disputes and trouble within the community ... But if there's no problem, there's no reason not to let them live there, whether Jew, (Muslim) Arab, or Christian."
As the debate over the proposed law intensified, Livnat said she viewed the decision as "a very great victory for those who view Israel as a democratic Jewish state as opposed as those who see it as the nation of all its citizens. There is no racism in this."
Livnat bristled when an interviewer on state-owned Israel Radio went further, drawing a parallel to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany. "When the Jews came here after the World War Two Nazi Holocaust, perhaps it would not have been expected that Jews would do something like this to Arabs," the interviewer said.
"Any comparison of this type is totally unacceptable," Livnat replied. "Are we exterminating a people? Are we killing people, or forcing them into "Any comparison of this type is totally unacceptable," Livnat replied. "Are concentration camps? How can anyone make such a comparison?"


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