Israel ratified a new law that legally distinguishes between Muslim and Christian citizens of the state, Haaretz reported Monday. The bill, which easily passed by a 31-6 vote in its third and final reading, recognizes the Christian Arab population as a separate, though not national minority for the first time.
The law, which expands the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in the Employment Commission by adding to it a separate Christian representative, was marketed as a way to better integrate Christians into the Israeli workforce. However, in practice, it is being carried out at the blatant expense of Muslim citizens. There are approximately 160,000 Christians living in Israel, compared with over a million Muslim citizens.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Likud MK Yariv Levin, Christians are “our natural allies, a counterbalance against the Muslims who want to destroy the state from within.” Levin, an outspoken opponent of the establishment of a Palestinian state (like other fellow MKs in Likud and the Jewish Home party) also emphasized that he refuses to call Christian citizens “Arabs.” “I’m being careful about not calling them Arabs because they aren’t Arabs,” he told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv a few weeks ago, despite the fact that the large majority of them are, in fact, Arabs, and many identify as part of the Palestinian nation.
Through the Knesset’s passing of the law, along with Levin’s candid comments, the Israeli government has made two things abundantly clear (if they weren’t already):
1. “Arab” is a bad word, and the Muslim Arab population specifically – the largest minority in the country – is made up of evil citizens intent on destroying the state, and are therefore not eligible to have equal rights.
2. Israel defines and subsequently prioritizes the rights of its citizens according to religion and ethnicity, in blatant contravention of its Declaration of Independence and the most common working assumptions of any democracy. This new law adds another chunk of evidence that Israel is an ethno-religious state with systematic, structural inequalities that work mainly to privilege the Jewish population living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
This new law has legally enshrined the de facto reality in which Muslim citizens of Israel are not entitled to equal rights, just by virtue of being born that way. This is the definition of a racist policy.
Jews sit at the top of the pyramid of religious privilege, followed by Christians and then Muslims. Of course, there are also inner-hierarchies within every sector (i.e. Russian Jews before Ethiopian Jews, urban middle class Palestinians before Bedouin in the periphery).
What strikes me about Levin’s comments is how he makes Christians out to be the Jews’ best friends, while the Muslims are the inherent enemy. This makes me think he knows nothing about basic history.