Israeli Parliament Adopts Racist Marriage Laws

The current Israeli regime has provided further ammunition to those fighting for Palestinian sovereignty who have long promoted the slogan that “Zionism is racism” and a “form of apartheid.”

This ammo entails a newly passed law affecting Palestinian marriages that mirrors those of our own southern racists, which provides measures to strip Arab Israelis of their citizenship if they marry Palestinians. For African Americans who were subjected to a hundred years of anti-miscegenation laws promulgated by the white supremacists that ruled in Dixie, it is an all too familiar story. [Webster’s dictionary defines miscegenation as “a mixture of races; especially marriage or cohabitation between a white person and a member of another race.”]

The story first appeared in an August 3, 2003 report by the Jerusalem-based writer, Justin Huggler. It was printed in the Independent, a well-known British newspaper. This racist marriage law was passed in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and goes into effect immediately.

Components of the law also include the following:

• Palestinians will be excluded from obtaining citizenship or residency. Anyone else who marries an Israeli will be entitled to Israeli citizenship.

• Israeli Arabs who marry Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip will either have to move to the occupied territories, or live apart from their husband or wife.

• Children of these unions will also be affected: from the age of 12 they will be denied citizenship or residency and forced to move out of Israel. The statute is a direct reversal of one of the provisions of the ten-year old Oslo Agreement, which allowed family reunions for Arabs inside Israel. In fact, many marriages of Palestinian Arabs with Israeli Arabs did occur. In practice, the Palestinian spouse was automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship and it was understood that Israeli citizenship would be denied in only very extreme cases.

However, the law was viewed by the Israeli rightwing as partially implementing “via the back door” the Palestinian demand for “the right of return.” The new law posits that citizenship will be granted only in special cases in which the Minister of the Interior is convinced that the “Palestinian applicant identifies with the state and that he or his kin contributed to the security of the state and had cooperated in the past with Israeli authorities.”

Even though the legislation was adopted as an alleged “security measure” for one year, the measure drew heavy fire from the Israeli Left and Israeli Arab organizations, and the law has been appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court. Even some Knesset members have acknowledged that the law is racist.

An international outcry also preceded the law’s passage. The European Union, which lodged an official protest, is now threatening to reconsider the upgrading of relations with Israel on the grounds that Israel appears to violates basic human rights. Condemnation from abroad included a joint letter from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which asked the Knesset members to reject the marriage law.

It stated, “The draft law barring family reunification for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens is profoundly discriminatory,” and “a law permitting such blatant racial discrimination, on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, would clearly violate international human rights law and treaties which Israel has ratified and pledged to uphold.”

Huggler also quotes human rights groups (including those of Israeli origin) that “The discrimination is not only against Palestinians, but against Israel’s own 1.2 million citizens of Palestinian origin as well. The overwhelming majority of Israelis who marry Palestinians are the so-called Israeli Arabs. i.e.- Palestinians who live in Israel and have Israeli citizenship.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) strongly condemned the new Israeli law, noting, “The law effectively forces Palestinian citizens of Israel who marry Palestinians from the occupied territories to either leave Israel and live abroad, abandon marriage plans, or marry but live separate lives.”

ADC President Mary Rose Oakar explained, “The law takes Israel even further away from its professed goal of being a democratic and equitable state. It is yet another inhumane policy designed to disrupt the normal live of Palestinians on both sides of the 1967 ‘green line’ and ensure that the fewest possible Palestinians become citizens of Israel even through such normal and universally recognized processes as marriage.”

The Former U.S. Congresswoman added, “this new form of discrimination can only exacerbate the state of tension which fuels conflict, and promotes fear and distrust between Israelis and Palestinians.” She concluded with a call to the, Bush administration to make clear to the Israeli government that the United States “strongly disapproves of laws which discriminate against people because of their ethnicity, and discourage marriages and divide families due to racial or ethnic intolerance.”

Whether the Bush Administration will listen to this heartfelt plea is doubtful. A U.S. State Department spokesman said it would study the new legislation before deciding whether it constitutes racial discrimination.

There is a hideous logic to miscegenation laws in a discriminatory society, and particularly in a racist society in which one group is held to be superior and another group(s) are held to be subservient. These laws are thus both a pillar upon which a racist society is established and maintained and a logical outgrowth of a society or state built upon granting privileges to a single group, and the systematic denial of those privileges or rights to another, whether that be Arabs or Palestinians in Israel or Blacks and Asians in the United States.

Racist marriage laws were an ugly part of U.S. history and not ones that should be adopted by any democratic state in the 21st century. From the time of Reconstruction to the 1960s anti-miscegenation laws sullied the law books in this country. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that they were mostly eliminated by the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia.

Richard and Mildred Loving were married in 1958 in Washington D.C. because their home state of Virginia still upheld the anti miscegenation law which stated that interracial marriages were illegal. They were married, and then lived together in Caroline County, Virginia. In 1959 they were prosecuted and convicted of violating the state’s anti miscegenation law. They were each sentenced one-year in jail, but promised the sentence would be suspended if they agreed to leave the state and not return for 25 years.

Forced to move, they returned to Washington D.C. where, in 1963, they initiated a suit challenging the constitutionality of the anti miscegenation law. In March of 1966, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the law, but in June of 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled the law unconstitutional. Thus, in 1967 the 16 states, which still had anti miscegenation laws on their books, were forced to erase them.

Attaining the fruits of U.S. democracy has been a long struggle for African Americans and other people of color. One would hope that the State of Israel and its elected bodies would not adopt this nation’s most shameful laws and traditions of oppression, but rather the civil liberties and civil rights guaranteed to ALL its citizens. Even more, to impose the same kinds of eugenics laws used by Nazi Germany against the Jews in 1930 Germany defiles the memories of those who died in Hitler’s ovens.

Frances M. Beal is a freelance writer on African American affairs. Contact © Copyright, 2003 Frances M. Beal

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