An Israeli Apartheid – Debunked. Part 2 – History of Israeli Equality Laws

April 28, 2008

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This is part 2 of my series debunking the myth of an Israeli apartheid.

An Israeli Apartheid – Debunked. Part 1 – Definitions and History

History of Israeli Equality Laws

Long before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders, among them David Ben Gurion who would become the first prime minister of Israel, consciously made the decision to try to avoid the situation in South Africa as much as possible. Ben Gurion told Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934:

We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland. (Shabtai Teveth, Ben Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War.)

The Declaration of Independence itself, from 1948, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, or race. Furthermore, later laws also prohibit discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation, political beliefs, and age. The scroll also promises freedom of religion, speech, education, and culture, and vows to preserve all religious places for all religions:

…it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Other laws outline other basic rights, such as laws protecting the ill where no caregiver or medical institution can discriminate between one patient and another based on religion, race, gender, nationality, birth country, sexual orientation, or any other reason that is similar to those.

There are equal opportunity laws in the work place (no discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, personal status, pregnancy, undergoing fertility treatments, being parents, age, race, religion, nationality, country of origin, political affiliation, or army service) and service and entertainment laws (whoever provides a product or public service or public venue cannot discriminate based on race, religion, religious affiliation, nationality, country of birth, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, status, or being parents).

Freedom of religion as you can see from the aforementioned laws, has always been part of Israel’s ideology. Each religious community has legal authority of its own members in matters of marriage and divorce, and they control their own holy places, both in Jerusalem, and in other parts of the country.

As for legal rights, Israel adopted many of the British laws, among them the use of administrative detention, which is permitted in certain cases for security reasons. This is only used in cases of violent offenders, and the detainee has the right to counsel and can appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. The prosecution has to justify holding closed proceedings, and many detention orders are reduced or reversed on appeal.

Israel doesn’t have a death penalty; In fact, it has only been used once, with Adolf Eichmann, often referred to as the architect of the Holocaust. No Arab has ever been given the death penalty, even after the most heinous acts of terrorism.

Other than various affirmative action laws that Israel has (though not as prominent in the US), here are more recent laws/milestones that were passed/achieved in Israel:

1983: The freedom to protest; 1993: The right of a Muslim student to wear a head cover in a catholic school (not allowed in France, for example); 1994: The right of a person not to be deported from Israel to a place where his life would be at risk; 1997 – Cancellation of the Ministry of Education’s censorship of a gay/lesbian youth show; 1999 – (Katzir Incident) Prohibition of discrimination towards Arabs who wish to purchase public land in a town in the Galilee; 2001 – Signs in mixed towns (Jews and Arabs) must have signs in Arabic as well; 2006 – Israel must list same-sex marriages that were performed outside of Israel.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series.

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