SOME politicians are always prepared to plumb the very depths of bitterness and division when it comes to being elected or getting their own way. God knows we’ve seen enough of that here in the UK these past months over the Brexit fiasco.

Pause for a moment, though, to look further afield beyond the current Brexit bedlam and consider the way many Israelis must feel right now about recent remarks made by their own Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I’m talking of course about Netanyahu’s admission earlier this week on Instagram that: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens.”

Netanyahu, who is facing an election battle in April, was responding to criticism about his policies from Israeli actor Rotem Sela and was pulling no punches.

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“According to the nation-state law we passed [in July 2018], Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and not anyone else,” insisted “Bibi”, as his supporters sometimes refer to him.

Such a public admission from Netanyahu will come as no surprise, of course, to those 1.5 million Palestinian Arab citizens who make up about 17% of Israel’s population.

The National:

Netanyahu’s arrogant and dismissive remarks only confirm Israel’s drift towards an apartheid state that Palestinian citizens have known and suffered under for years.

Long before the passing of the nation-state law last year they have faced marginalisation in a country that purports to be democratic, but whose discriminatory legislation and draconian measures often make a mockery of such a claim.

Ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, more than 65 laws have been implemented to restrict the rights of Palestinian citizens in Israel and Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Writing this week in response to Netanyahu’s remarks, Amjad Iraqi, an advocacy co-ordinator with the Palestinian Arab-run legal centre in Israel Adalah – which means “justice” in Arabic – gave just a few examples of what such laws mean in the daily life of Palestinian citizens.

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It means, for example, those like him cannot buy property in most of the country and can be barred by an admission committee from living in a small community if they are not deemed “socially or culturally suitable”.

It means that if he or anyone like him wished to marry a Palestinian from the occupied territories they could not bestow residency or citizenship on his bride so she could live with him in Israel, but Jews from around the world can meanwhile fly into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport and become a citizen.

At every turn Palestinian citizens are discriminated against home and away. According to the Absentees’ Property Law (1950), for example, those Palestinian refugees expelled after November 29, 1947, are officially “absentees” and as such are denied any rights. Their land, houses and bank accounts (movable and immovable property) were confiscated by the state.

The National:

While sometimes this discrimination Palestinian citizens face in existing laws is explicit, more often they are worded or dressed up as seemingly neutral, but still have a disparate impact in their implementation.

To take yet another example, for those Palestinians who have a “permanent” residency status to live in Jerusalem, entry into and residency in Jerusalem is “a revocable privilege, instead of an inherent right”, according to human rights organisation Al-Haq.

The Israeli authorities justify most revocations on the basis of failing to prove that Jerusalem is their “centre of life”. In other words, if Palestinians are away from Jerusalem for a prolonged period of time, then quite simply they can lose their residency rights.

According to the US-based international body Human Rights Watch (HRW), such a system effectively pushes many Palestinians to leave their home city, amounting to forcible transfer, which is a violation of international law.

It’s interesting to note that of the 65 laws passed and implemented to restrict the rights of Palestinians, more than half of these were adopted since 2000. It’s no coincidence, too, that since 2009 a number of elections in Israel have allowed Netanyahu to bring to power the most right-wing government coalitions in the country’s history, intensifying the creation and implementation of such laws.

Which brings us back to Netanyahu’s remarks this week that Israel “is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and not anyone else.”

The National:

Palestinians aside, other Israel citizens too often find Netanyahu’s remarks and their nation’s acquiescence in such discrimination repugnant and distasteful. Some, like newspaper columnist Gideon Levy of the Israeli daily Haaretz, warn of a dangerous shift in the country’s political mindset.

“The problem is the atmosphere, the spirit of the times, the values and outlooks that have become ingrained here during decades of Zionism,” wrote Levy in the wake of Netanyahu’s remarks.

“The apartheid did not start with him and will not end with his departure; it probably won’t even be dented. One of the most racist nations in the world cannot complain about its prime minister’s racism,” warned Levy.

THESE are condemnatory words and, coming from within Israel itself, especially worthy of our attention. This, after all, is a country created from the fallout of some of the worst discrimination, intolerance and hatred of modern times. If such division, bitterness, racism and segregation can take grip in Israel, then it stands as a warning to us all.

It would be all too easy to dismiss Netanyahu’s remarks as just those of a politician facing a fierce election battle and trying to reach out to those right-wing supporters in Israel that have always rallied to his call.

Yes, time and again Netanyahu has used the spectre of the Palestinians and the “threat” they pose purely for his own political survival. But in so doing not only does he further diminish Israel’s democratic credentials, but he endorses the very kind of victimisation Jews across centuries have endured.

Writing the other day, Daniel Gordis, the American-born Israeli author and speaker, whom the Jerusalem Post has listed as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world, observed that “Israel is now witness to a full-scale assault on its democracy by its own prime minister”.

In a time when the world needs to stand firm against the poisonous spread of anti-Semitism, Netanyahu seems happy to embrace political allies like the Jewish Power party which is overtly racist and calls for expelling Israel’s Arabs.

All that matters, it seems, is Bibi’s political survival. In the process, however, Israel’s double standards on discrimination have been exposed for all the world to see.