The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel: “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
This was Israel back in its idealistic days, when it advertised itself as a land of egalitarianism and democracy. Israel now, as Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman puts it, has the most “unequal society among western nations.”
Israeli Arabs are marginalized and discriminated against in Israeli society, though they make up about 20% of the population. Just to highlight a few aspects of discrimination, the State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories states that: “Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, Palestinian Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students.”
In regard to addressing discrimination, there is little Arab Israelis can do about it. They are hardly given access to the political sphere, and if they are, they face discrimination in the Knesset as well. According to Haaretz, the current Knesset is the most racist in Israeli history, as it proposed 21 bills in 2008 and 2009 that would discriminate against Israeli Arabs. Lately, Arab Israeli MPs such as Hanan Zoubi, who took part in the Gaza flotilla, have come under fire in the Knesset. Last week, the Knesset voted 7-1 that Mrs. Zoubi be punished for her involvement in the flotilla. However, speaker Reuven Rivlin ignored the recommendation, not wanting to tarnish Israel’s reputation even further (Economist).
Nevertheless, discrimination is still running rampant and as Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice-president of the Israel Democracy Institute, states, such an “ugly trend” is comparable to “a McCarthyite campaign against civil society.”