EU diplomats: 'Jewish state' is becoming too Jewish

16.12.11 @ 18:07

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries have raised a red flag on Israel's treatment of its Arab minority in a complaint that touches the heart of its identity as a "Jewish state."

  • Darawshe: 'My family has lived in the same small town for 28 generations and I am never going to leave it for the sake of giving the Jews a 'pure' homeland' (Photo: Johnk85)

The deputy heads of EU embassies in Tel Aviv put forward their concerns in a 27-page-long internal report sent to the European Exernal Action Service (EEAS) earlier this month.

The contents were first revealed by Israeli daily Haaretz on Friday (16 December) morning. EUobserver has also seen the "Conclusions" and the "Recommendations" parts of the paper.

The Conclusions were endorsed by all 27 member states. The Recommendations were cut from the final draft because some EU countries objected to the content.

"We should see Israel's treatment of its minorities as a core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We should support the vision for Israel of its founders: Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, in which all its citizens have equal opportunities and are treated equally under law," the Conclusions say.

"In our dialogue with the government of Israel ... we should emphasise that addressing inequality within Israel is integral to Israel's long-term stability," they add.

"We should make the following points clear ... that we do not believe that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state should detract in any way from the vision of equality for all its citizens enshrined in its founding documents; that it is in the interests of all Israelis to demonstrate that Israel is not only Jewish and democratic, but tolerant and inclusive."

The controversial Recommendations made 16 points.

One idea was to nominate a "lead EU country" to monitor "potentially discriminatory draft legislation" and to "agree that approval at the second reading of such legislation [in the Knesset] should trigger an EU demarche."

They also suggested "high-level EU visitors see the Israeli Arab community and its leadership when they visit." They added that EU countries should "lobby" the Israeli government to employ at least 10 percent Israeli Arabs in its civil service and to promote Arabic teaching in schools.

'Shared values'

EU foreign relations spokeswoman Maja Kocjanic confirmed the text is authentic.

"It was prepared for us in order to reflect how we might engage constructively with government and non-government interlocutors in Israel when dealing with an issue identified in the EU-Israeli Action Plan [a 2005 bilateral treaty] as a shared value - the rights of minorities," she said.

Arab Israelis make up 1.5 million of the country's 7.8 million population but have a higher birth rate than Jews. Another 4.4 million Arabs live in Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Mohammad Darawshe, an Arab Israeli activist for the Jersualem-and-New-York-based NGO the Abraham Fund, told EUobserver Israeli laws give "some level of de jure protection" to Arab citizens. But he said "de facto" discrimination is widening the economic gap between Arabs and Jews.

He added that right-wing Jewish groups are steering the country "downhill" in terms of civil liberties: "Israel's charter says it is 'Jewish' and 'democratic' but some Jews are trying to change the defintion to make Jewishness the dominant factor."

Darawshe described a new law passed in March - the Selection Committee Bill, which bans Arabs from buying or renting land in some 500 municipalities - as "ethnic cleansing."

"My family has lived in the same small town [Iksal] for 28 generations and I am never going to leave it for the sake of giving the Jews a 'pure' homeland," he said.

'Irresponsible language'

For his part, Mark Regev, the spokesman of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said any talk of "ethnic cleansing" is "rubbish, rubbish ... no one is being thrown out of their homes, so to use this kind of language is irresponsible."

"Israeli Arabs enjoy full rights within a multi-party democracy with full separation of powers. Where else in the Middle East do Arabs have full freedom of speech, freedom of association?" he added.

Asked by EUobserver about the rights of Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank, Regev said "that is a whole different issue."