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Israeli coalition chairman proposes racist legislation, aims to divide Palestinian citizens of Israel

By Hannah B. - January 23, 2014
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Palestinian citizens of Israel] [Racism]

Yariv Levin, the Israeli coalition whip, recently proposed legislation that would legally differentiate Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel. The new legislation would give Christians special privileges and certain rights that Muslims would not enjoy. 

Levin’s racist policy would give Christians better employment opportunities, as well as some financial benefits. Muslims would not benefit. 

The Israeli government has also begun an initiative to recruit Christians into the Israeli army, a policy that contributes to fragmenting and dividing the Arab community in Israel.  

“I am careful not to call them Arabs” 

Levin, the coalition chairman for Likud-Betanyu in the Knesset, insists that Christians cannot be Arabs. “This is an important historical move that could balance the State of Israel and connect us and the Christians, and I am careful not to call them Arabs, because they are not Arab”. 

There are 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel; made up of those who escaped expulsion during 'The Nakba’ in 1948. The majority of Arab Muslims and Christians living in Israel identify as Palestinian and many have family or friends living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or in refugee camps around the Middle East. 

According to Levin’s proposal, the ethnicity on Christian’s ID cards would be changed from 'Arab’ to 'Christian’, one example of attempts to divide the Arab community and create tension.

Of the 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel are made up of only 160,000 are Christian, constituting a tiny 2% of the total Israeli population. 

Were the legislation to be passed, one of Levin’s first moves would be to create equal employment opportunities for Arab Christians and representation for Christians in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Currently neither Muslim nor Christian Arabs enjoy equal employment rights in Israel

Furthermore, Christians would enjoy financial benefits, though Levin declined to outline what exactly these would include. 

These divide-and-rule politics expose the discriminatory policies that exist in Israel and aim to weaken the Arab community. 

Routine discrimination and high levels of poverty 

The Arab population is marginalized in many fields of life and are among the poorest demographic in Israel. Over half of the poor families in Israel are Arab families, according to a report by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel. 

Although full citizens of Israel and therefore theoretically entitled to all state benefits, Christian and Muslim Arabs in Israel “face a complex and confusing system, designed to disenfranchise and impoverish them,” according to The Galilee Foundation. 

In particular, unemployment is a major issue facing Palestinians living in Israel. The Galilee Foundation reports: “Of the 40 towns with the highest level of unemployment in Israel, 36 are Palestinian.” When Palestinians do find employment, they are often paid lower salaries than their Jewish counterparts and are offered no protection from the state against discriminatory employment practices. 

That Israel is prepared to remove these racial barriers for Christians only, highlights Israel’s outwardly racist policies. 

Human Rights Watch reported in 2011 that the Knesset passed a law enabling certain Jewish communities in the Negev and Gililee regions to render Palestinian residential applicants unsuitable. The report maintains the law is based on “vague social suitability criteria.”
Levin believes that “they [the Christians] are our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the state from the inside.” He sees the support of the Christian population as protection from the Muslims living in Israel, and he is not alone. He has been elected as coalition leader in the Knesset and holds steering power over the direction of Israel’s legislative program. 
Israel’s push to recruit Christians into army
In a similar move to differentiate Muslim and Christian citizens, Israeli authorities have recently embarked on a campaign to recruit Arab Christians into the army. While there are few supporters—in 2012 thirty-five Arab Christians served in the army, though this number rose to 100 in 2013—the majority of Arab Christians strongly oppose serving in the army, as in doing so they would be forced to bear arms against their own people.
The head of the campaign, Father Gabriel Nadaf, believes that Arab Christians should serve in the army if they want to be incorporated into Israeli society. Nadaf also believes that Christians owe it to the state of Israel for protecting them. The large majority of Arab Christians however, feel that the recruitment campaign is no more than another one of Israel’s divide and conquer tactics, aimed at splitting apart its Arab population into smaller, easier to manage groups.

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