The European Union has a responsibility to stop Israel violating democracy

The deputy speaker of the Knesset argues that things have become clearer since the approval of the nation state law: Israel is now firmly an apartheid regime

Arab lawmakers stand up in protest during a Knesset session in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 19, 2018. Israel's parliament approved a controversial piece of legislation on Thursday that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people but which critics warn sidelines minorities. (AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi)
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Despite the fact that we have lived here for centuries, Israel has always attempted to make its Palestinian citizens feel like strangers on their own land. The Israelis established a system of institutional discrimination against non-Jewish citizens, yet they were still careful to keep up appearances by stating that they are "the only democracy in the Middle East". In effect, Israel is a democracy for Jews and Jewish for Arabs. It is a theocracy that has pushed for the establishment of one-state with two-separate systems: one for the privileged population, the Jews, and the other for the second class of Arab Palestinians. Now things are clearer: by approving the new nation state law, Israel has become an apartheid regime that is based on Jewish supremacy.

Even before this piece of legislation, which provides full political and national rights only to the Jewish population, there were already more than 50 laws in Israel that discriminated only against non-Jewish citizens. But the significance of this law goes beyond the immediate discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer in accessing services, as it reaffirms the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and promotes further Jewish colonisation. It also seeks to bury the two-state solution and make it impossible to have two independent states living side by side in peace and security.

The Israeli government felt confident to push this law forward because the Trump administration is fully behind them. Donald Trump’s Middle East team – Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, Jared Kushner, senior adviser, and Ambassador David Friedman - share the same radical ideology as the current Israeli government. They don’t look at Palestinians as equals and have not even been able to utter terms such as “Palestinian rights” or “Palestinian state”.

In addition to the US position, the European Union has reassured Israel on several occasions that it won’t impose sanctions for its systematic violations of International law and UN resolutions, strengthening Israel’s culture of impunity. In fact, Emanuele Giaufret, the EU ambassador to Israel, repeatedly insists on repeating the line that the European Union and Israel share the values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

But now the European Union has a responsibility to act based on its own principles. The EU-Israel association agreement establishes that “relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this agreement.”

The nation state law denies the right to self-determination to all Palestinians, the "non-Jewish population" living in the historic land of Palestine, including Israel and the occupied territory of Palestine: Christians, Muslims and Druze, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Galilee to the Naqab desert. They represent more than 50 per cent of the total population living under Israeli control. Is the European Union willing to accept this reality of apartheid as part of some so-called "shared values" between Israel and the EU? Could any European representative refer to this situation as the "democratic principles" upon which the EU-Israel association agreement was conditioned?

Pro-Israel advocates will insist that some Palestinian citizens are part of the Israeli Knesset and that they have remained a democracy. But the nation state law never mentions that word. The fact that matters is that democracy goes way beyond our presence in the parliament and Israel can no longer claim to have the status of a democracy. In fact, the Knesset automatically rejects the discussion of any bill calling for full equality for all citizens of the state without religious or national distinctions. A bill I bring every year on equal allocation of land for all citizens has been consistently rejected.

The Israeli ethnocracy has become as an apartheid regime. This is not going to change until Israel pays the price for its racism, arrogance and violations of international law. The European Union and its member states have the choice of either continuing to encourage such systematic policies by ignoring reality, or they can take action in order to save the prospects of a just and lasting peace that safeguards the rights of all, Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Druze Muslims and Jews. Being Israel's first trade partner, Europe has enough tools to stop the madness encouraged and enabled by the Trump administration.

We respect European history and values. We look forward to seeing and feeling those values.

Dr Ahmad Tibi is the deputy speaker of the Knesset. He represents the Arab Joint List, the third largest political party in the Israeli parliament