Let’s suppose you knew someone trying to get a leg up in life by getting his young family out of the mean streets of someplace like Detroit, East Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. Not only was the school his three daughters attended substandard, it was contaminated with asbestos and the city itself was strewn with garbage. But when he tried to move into a tree-lined suburb with manicured lawns, he couldn’t because he was (take your pick) black, brown, Asian, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, disabled, whatever.
Would you say something? Would you tell the people in the suburb that discrimination on the basis of race or religion went out with “Bull” Conners and George Wallace? Or would you remain quiet, endorsing bigotry by your silence? The U.S. Congress and the White House have chosen the latter course.
When Adel Kaadan, an emergency room worker and an Israeli-Arab, tried to move into the township of Katzir in 1995, the Jewish Agency, which allocates state lands in Israel, refused him. He sued, and the High Court of Justice ruled 4-1 in March 2000 that the Israeli Declaration of Independence made discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or gender illegal. A victory for equality? Not for a disturbing number of Sharon government officials.
On July 7 Sharon’s cabinet voted 17-2 to endorse a bill sponsored by Rabbi Haim Druckman of the right-wing National Religious Party to allow the Jewish Agency, in the words of a scathing editorial in Ha’aretz, “to prevent non-Jewish citizens of the state from living in certain places, in violation of fundamental civil rights.”
The cabinet tabled the proposal July 15, when the Labor Party threatened to torpedo it, but not the principle behind it. “We don’t in any way discard the idea that Jewish settlement in Israel is a critical component in the realization of the Zionist vision,” Sharon spokesperson Raanan Gissin said. Added Communication Minister Reuven Rivlin, “This is the state for the Jewish People, not the state for all its citizens.”
Why has the U.S. Congress been silent on this matter when many Israelis have not? Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called the Druckman proposal “racist,” and Yossi Sarid of the Meretz Party said it would turn “Israel into a racist state, perhaps the most racist in the family of democratic nations.” Where is the U.S. State Department on this issue?
This is no isolated incident. Listen to this statement made to Robert Friedman of the Nation: “I believe there is no place for two peoples in our country. Palestinians are like lice, you have to take them out like lice.” Some racist maniac? No, Rehavam Ze’evi, Sharon’s former Minister of Tourism and leader of the Moledet Party, whose assassination set off a massive round of bloodletting in the present war between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ze’evi was not alone in such sentiments. Sharon Cabinet member Efraim Eitam, head of the National Religious party, refers to Israeli Arabs as a “cancer,”–Israeli Arabs make up 20 % of Israel–and along with the Moledet Party, advocates “transferring” Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to Jordan or the Egyptian Sinai. In the Balkans they call that “ethnic cleansing.”
The same day the Sharon cabinet was considering this piece of bigotry, President Bush endorsed Israel’s seizure of Palestinian cities, but never mentioned the matter of Adal Kaadan. Congress has done no better. It passed a resolution supporting Sharon’s military incursions 446-23, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is leading the charge to keep Yassar Arafat out of the U.S. and to curb Palestinian authority operations in Washington. But there has been not a murmur on the politics of people like Eitam and Druckman.
Why are our political leaders silent in the face of policies and attitudes that many Israelis, and certainly a majority of Americans, reject? Why haven’t Congress and the White House made it clear that ethnic cleansing and race/religion based policies are unacceptable and could endanger the $3 billion in aid we send Israel each year?
Adel Kaadam is still waiting to move into a house in Katzir. How long is our country going to be quiet while he stands at the back of the bus? Where is our sense of outrage?