Israel has finally come out as an ethno-religious state

The only thing left for Palestinians to do is fight for one state espousing democracy and secularism.

Israel nation-state law
Knesset member Oren Hazan takes a selfie with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a Knesset session that passed the 'nation-state' bill in Jerusalem on July 19 [AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi]

In Palestine, we are dealing with a complex situation: We have a settler-colonial project that denies its colonialism and argues it is a democracy and we have its victims whose victimisation has been dismissed for decades and whose national liberation struggle has been defamed.

The colonisers have been successful in manipulating the narrative on what is going on, rewriting history and whitewashing their crimes. Various countries around the world have bought into their lies and kept a “neutral” stance, claiming their positions are “balanced”.

What is there to balance, when one side has one of the most advanced armies in the world, financed and supplied by an allied superpower, and the other side has been altogether abandoned by allies and well-wishers and has only the determination and strength of its people to rely on?  

But these claims of “neutrality” and “balance” are no longer tenable. Israel has stopped playing the democracy pretence game and has revealed itself for what it really is: an apartheid state. On July 19, the Israeli Knesset voted to pass the so-called “nation-state law” which declares Israel “the national home of the Jewish people”. It is now officially an exclusive ethno-religious state.

Unveiling the ethno-religious state of Israel

For us Palestinians, this law reiterates the obvious: namely, that the Zionist ideology is inherently racist and undemocratic.

The political goal of Zionism was to engineer a demographic shift in Palestine, making the minority Jewish population (which was just 7.6 percent in 1914) a majority through massive Jewish immigration and settlement building and expulsion of the Palestinians.

Inevitably, the expropriation of land went hand-in-hand with the violation of rights of the Palestinian majority. Zionists have always looked at Palestinians as invisible if not absent, or rather “present absentees”. The identity of those who remained within the boundaries of what was to become Israel was erased through the term “Israeli Arab” and their rights curbed by a myriad of laws (“the nation-state law” being just the latest iteration).

This is because, contrary to modern liberal thinking, in Israel, citizenship and nationality are two separate, independent concepts. In other words, Israel is not the state of its citizens, but the state of the Jewish people. Thus Palestinians in Israel have Israeli passports but they do not have rights equal to those of Jewish citizens.

With the new “nation-state law”, Palestinians in Israel are now considered “native aliens” or foreigners in their own homeland, because Israel is defined by its law as “ the historical homeland of the Jewish people” i.e. not the state of all of its citizens. This is the direct result of Zionism and its ideology of racism.

It is also the direct result of prevailing undemocratic sentiments among Israel’s Jews. The contradiction between professed ideals and actual behaviour, which has been the engine of political change in many places around the world, does not exist in Israel because the democratic creed, or civic democracy, is absent in Israeli society.

There is no promise of equality for all citizens in Israeli political culture and praxis. And there is no tradition of civil liberties in Israel because such a tradition is incompatible with Zionism.

Hence, one can understand the antagonism of the establishment to calls for the creation of one state for Palestinians and Jews, one secular democratic state run by parliamentary elections and majority rule in historical Palestine. This idea has been rejected outright by Israeli Jewish society because it would effectively mean the end of Zionism.

And as Israel effectively turns into an exclusive ethno-religious state, we have to ask uncomfortable questions: does this mean that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc can also be the basis of modern states? And if we still insist that religion should be separate from state, then where is the international outrage? Why isn’t mainstream media obsessing about the Jewish state, the way it was about the “Islamic state”? How is Israel different from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that sought to establish a state for Muslims only through violence and dispossession?

The fight against apartheid is on

The passing of the “nation-state law” should eliminate whatever doubt there still is among “neutral” observers that Israel is, in fact, an apartheid state.

Just as apartheid South Africa gave citizenship to white South Africans and relegated blacks to “independent homelands”, Zionism gives all Jews the right to citizenship in the state of Israel, while denying citizenship to Palestinians – its indigenous inhabitants.


While South Africa’s apartheid used race to determine citizenship, the state of Israel uses religious identification to determine citizenship. Just as apartheid South Africa made laws criminalising free movement of blacks on their ancestral land, Israel controls every aspect of Palestinians’ lives through a military occupation infrastructure composed of checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements and roads, and the Wall, combined with a web of legal regulations.

The parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa are infinite. And probably the only major difference between the two is that Israel gets away with its crimes with unprecedented impunity, as evidenced by its latest war crimes in Gaza. 

So what is left for the Palestinian people after the approval of this blatantly racist bill? Well, we definitely are not foolish enough to expect anything from the so-called “international community”.

Years of “negotiations” created only bantustans in the West Bank and a concentration camp in Gaza. Palestinians are still at the receiving end of merciless assaults by racist Israeli troops hidden in their US-made helicopters and F16’s.

What all US envoys to the region have been trying to do is reach a “solution” in accordance with Israeli conditions, disregarding Security Council resolutions and international law. Neither the current US right-wing administration nor the spineless EU has a fair plan for how to resolve the crisis in Palestine.

The only thing that we, Palestinians, can count on is the power of people, just as South Africans did when, through a sustained global campaign, they forced governments to boycott their apartheid regime.

We will continue to expand the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and will continue marching to the fence in Gaza until we bring this madness to an end. We will also continue working on an alternative model, both democratic and secular, which guarantees equality and abolishes apartheid, bantustans and separation in Palestine altogether. We will not give up the fight.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.