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'This racist new law makes me ashamed to be Israeli'

'This racist new law makes me ashamed to be Israeli'

Israeli Arabs are being made second-class citizens. This form of apartheid violates the founding commitment to equality

I gave a speech at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in 2004 in which I spoke about the declaration of independence of the state of Israel. I called it “a source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis”.

I went on to say that this remarkable document had expressed the commitment that: “The state of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people; it will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel; it will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex; it will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

The founding fathers of the state of Israel who signed the declaration in 1948 considered the principle of equality to be the bedrock of the society they were building. They also committed themselves “to pursue peace and good relations with all neighbouring states and people”.

Seventy years on, the Israeli government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism. This law states that only the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination in Israel.

It fills me with deep sorrow that I must today ask the same questions that I asked 14 years ago before the Knesset: can we ignore the intolerable gap between what the declaration of independence promised and the realities of Israel?

Does occupation and domination over another people fit the declaration of independence? Is there any sense in independence for one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other? Can the Jewish people, whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighbouring people? Can the state of Israel allow itself the unrealistic dream of an ideological end to the conflict instead of pursuing a pragmatic, humanitarian one based on social justice?

I still believe that, despite all the difficulties, the future of Israel and its position in the family of enlightened nations depend upon our ability to realise the promise of the founding fathers as they enshrined it in the Israeli declaration of independence.

Yet nothing has really changed since 2004. Instead, we have a law that confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens. It follows that this is a very clear form of apartheid. I don’t think the Jewish people lived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, in order to become the oppressors, inflicting cruelty on others. This new law does exactly that. Therefore, I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.

  • Daniel Barenboim is a conductor, pianist, author and activist. The above statement is slightly abridged. For the full text, first published in The Guardian, click here.
  • 'We Are Responsible'. Click here and here to hear Jewish Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer explain why he opposes current Israeli policies against the Palestinians, and why some right-wing Israeli Zionists remind him of the Nazis.
  • 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians'. Click here and here for Jewish Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappe on the racist origins and history of the state of Israel.


Memories of a Jewish childhood

NEC slate: vote for Peter Willsman

NEC slate: vote for Peter Willsman