Sunday, September 20, 2020

Palestinian citizens of Israel increasingly punished for being ‘the enemy from inside’

By Lynda Franken - August 26, 2014
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Palestinian citizens of Israel]

Groom, Mahmoud Mansour, a Muslim and his wife Malcha Morel, Jewish convert, the home of the family of Mahmoud in the neighborhood of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, August 17, 2014 (Photo Daniel Bar-On. AFP)

“We’ve been together for five years, but we’ve never encountered such racism. I always knew there were racists, but as long as you’re not affected by it, until you feel it in your body, you don’t know what it is,” Mahmoud Mansour told Haaretz when recalling the death threats he received because he married an Israeli and former-Jewish woman on 17 July. 

Mansour, 26, is an Arab Muslim with Israeli citizenship. He married his long-time girlfriend Morel Malcha, 23, in Rishon leZion, an Israeli city south of Tel Aviv. Malcha was born into a Jewish family but converted to Islam after meeting Mansour. 

A week before the wedding, the far-right Jewish organization Lehava got hold of the couple’s wedding invitation and posted it on Facebook, urging its supporters to condemn the wedding and to 'save’ Malcha from her future Arab husband. The wedding couple received several death threats, causing them to ask the Israeli court to prevent the demonstration from happening. Their request was denied on their wedding day, although it restricted protestors from coming closer than 200 meters from the wedding venue. 

Afraid that the protest would turn violent and ruin their wedding day, Mansour and Malcha hired 33 security guards of a total cost of over $4,000, which they had to pay for themselves. “Why are they forcing me to spend out of my own pocket? […] If something happens, they’re supposed to take care of it, not me,” Mansour told Haaretz. 

The Lehava activists chanted anti-Arab sentiments and accused the bride of making an awful mistake, reported Dahlia Scheindlin of the left-wing Israeli 972 Magazine, who was present at the scene. One Jewish woman told her that “the children could all turn out to be Hamas! They might be Jews killing Jews, and they wouldn’t even know it,” ignoring the fact that Mansour is an Israeli citizen and has no affiliations with Hamas.

Lehava – the 'Organization for the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land’ – is an organization that aims to prevent intermarriage between Jewish and non-Jewish people. The organization opened a hotline in September 2013, through which citizens can call to inform Lehava members on relations between Jewish women and Arab  men. The hotline also provides names of Arab men that the organization suspects of being involved with Jewish women. The service, it says, is meant to “save the daughters of Israel.”

Lehava is led by Bentzi Gupstein, a former member of the extreme right-wing Kach party, which was banned by the Israeli government in 1994. A Haaretz research in 2011 showed that Lehava is closely linked to the Israeli non-profit organization Hemla, which receives state-funding. Gupstein is Hemla’s public relations director and receives a yearly salary of approximately $10,000 from the organization.

Gupstein also publically objected to the wedding of Mansour and Malcha. “We are still at war and she is marrying a member of the enemy,” he told  Israeli news website NRG.

The enemy from inside

The idea that Arab Israelis – or Palestinian citizens of Israel – are a threat to the state of Israel is not new. A survey conducted in 2012 by the University of Haifa and the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) showed that 57 per cent of the Jewish Israelis avoided Arab areas in Israel out of fear. An additional 69 per cent believed that an Arab citizen defining himself as “a Palestinian Arab in Israel” is unable to be loyal to the Israeli state and its laws.  

A renewed increase of discrimination seems apparent since the overwhelmingly right-wing 18th Knesset was appointed in 2009. Avigdor Lieberman was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs while his party Yisrael Beitenu used the slogan “No Loyalty – No Citizenship” during their 2009 election campaign, directly targeting Arab Israelis as being disloyal.

As of the start of 'Operation Protective Edge’ last July, several human rights organizations reported cases that involve Palestinian citizens of Israel who are suspended from their jobs or universities for supporting Gaza or critiquing the Israeli military on social media.

“At least 25 Facebook pages have been set up with names like “not in our schools” and “exposing traitors” where people copy statuses of Palestinian Israelis alongside their photos and places of work, requesting that the general public call on their employers to fire them,” argues Gadeer Nicola, a lawyer at the New Israel Fund (NIF), on the NIF-website.

One of those cases is the suspension of Dr. Haitham Rajabi from Shaare Zedek Medical Center in West-Jerusalem last month. Rajabi was suspended after he called Israeli soldiers operating in Gaza murderers. “Even in times of peace, and not only during a justified war to defend the home front, false accusations that IDF soldiers are war criminals is totally unacceptable, especially from an employee of the State of Israel,” Dr. Zeev Rotstein, the hospital’s director stated on the facility’s Facebook page. 

Rajabi, who received several death threats after the hospital published his name in a public apology letter, responded by saying to Haaretz: “I wrote against the killing of children, not in favor of Hamas. […] This isn’t connected to my work as a doctor; I treat everyone, Jews, Arabs and soldiers… Who killed those children if not the soldiers?”

Raafat Awaisha also found out that posting one’s opinion on Facebook is not without consequences. Awaisha, a 20-year-old Arab Israeli student at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, was detained and questioned by the Israeli police after he published a Facebook status calling for public opposition to Israel’s mass bombing in Gaza. “We have to go out and scream and shout and say no to this country’s policies in Gaza,” Awaisha’s post on 30 July read. He also shared an invite for a protest held later that day in the village of Laqiyeh, in southern Israel.

Upon his return to Ben Gurion University, a sign on his dormitory room read: “the only good Arab is a dead Arab, and you’re next,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Not a legal practice 

It is not a legal practice to punish Arab Israelis who state their personal opinions in the personal sphere where they are not directly insulting anyone.

The Israeli Employment Law specifically states that “an employer shall not discriminate among his employees […] because of their (…) nationality, country of origin (or) views.” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) adds that in general, when statements are made outside of the workplace, like in the Rajabi-case, employers do not bear responsibility for the content. In addition, employers should refrain from interfering in the personal sphere of their employees.

There is “a very narrow scope” of cases in which it is justified to take disciplinary measures against an employee, says Steven Back, Director of International Relations of ACRI, to Palestine Monitor. These are cases in which the statements of an employee can be held against him in the workplace. 

“If, for example, an Arab doctor working in an Israeli hospital posted that he or she would not treat Jewish patients because of x or y reasons, that could be cause of a disciplinary investigation. The same would be true of a Jewish doctor towards Arab patients,” Beck explains. 

Like employers, universities do not bear responsibility for their students’ statements. In addition, “the heads of Israel’s academic institutions (…) have neither the authority, nor the duty, to judge students and take punitive measures against them in respect of statements they have posted on social networks,” stated ACRI-attorney Tal Hassin in a letter to Hagit Messer-Yaron, the vice-chair of the Council of Higher Education in Israel.

The letter also addresses “serious concerns that (institutions of higher education) are acting according to emotional and patriotic motives, which does not accord with their public function […] This concern is further exacerbated by the fact that no actions have been taken against Jewish students, despite the fact that social forums are simmering with harsh and racist comments against Palestinians, in Israel and Gaza, some of which were written by students.”

Even though the Israeli law regarding free speech does not distinguish between citizens who are Jewish and those who are non-Jewish, “the events of the summer serve to accent that the law is not always applied equally”, says Steven Beck to Palestine Monitor

ACRI holds that freedom of expression is essential in a democratic country, regardless of the emotions that certain statements can trigger. Israeli President Reuven Revlin of Likud seems to agree. In response to the turmoil around the wedding of Mansour and Malcha, he stated on his Facebook page: 

“Mahmoud and Morel from Jaffa have decided to marry and to exercise their freedom in a democratic country. The manifestations of incitement against them are infuriating and distressing, whatever my opinion or anyone else’s might be regarding the issue itself. Not everyone has to rejoice their happy occasion, but everyone must respect it.”

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