The Leicester Secularist
Denial of human rights to Israel's Palestinian citizens
At a well-attended meeting on 20th March Claudia Prestel, Reader in Modern European and Jewish History at the University of Leicester, gave an entertaining and comprehensive talk about the ethnic politics of Israel, based on the scholarship of Oren Yiftachel and Asad Ghanem, one Israeli Jewish, the other a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
She used the case of Q’adan v. Katsir (1998) to illustrate the nature of the state, which she describes as an ethnocracy, or settling ethnocracy, or a hegemonic ethnic state. In the 50th year of the State of Israel, the basic human right of equal access to state land was still being denied to its citizens, despite a Court of Justice ruling in favour of the Q’adan family who wished to lease state land in Katsir. The Jewish National Fund (JNF, founded 1901) owns 15% of Israel’s land which according to JNF statutes will belong to the Jewish people for ever and thus cannot be sold or leased to non-Jews.
The Q’adan family was not allowed to lease the land because they were not Jewish, although they are citizens of Israel.
Based on Asad Ghanem’s work she discussed four groups who have challenged the Ashkenazi hegemony: Orthodox Jews, the Mizrachim (Jews from the Middle East and North Africa), Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Soviet Russian immigrants, as well as organisations and individuals in the Jewish diaspora exerting power or influence in the Jewish state.
Claudia outlined the lack of rights and discrimination against Palestinians and non-Jews enshrined in law, from the absence of a constitution guaranteeing Palestinian rights, nonconscription into the armed forces preventing full citizenship and non-hiring of Arabs for public positions.
Prestel also introduced the audience to the thoughts of the late orthodox Jewish professor at the Hebrew University, Y. Leibowitz, who called for the separation of state and religion in 1959 and who argued that the state has no religious significance. For him Zionism is an expression of ‘us being fed up being ruled by the goyim [derogatory term for non-Jews]’. He opposed the notion of the chosen people if it is not in a religious context. She also spoke of Avraham Burg's ideas about memory and the Holocaust.
This was a fascinating insight into the power structures that sustain the State of Israel and provoked a number of contributions from the floor, with regard to Jewish religion, nationalism, fundamentalism and ideas for the future.