“During Israel’s fiftieth year of independence (1997-98), the country’s High Court of Justice was grappling with an appeal known as Qa’adan Vs Katzir. It was lodged by a Palestinian-Arab citizen who was prevented from leasing state land in the suburban locality of Katzir – built entirely on state lands — on grounds of not being a Jew. The court deferred decision on the case as much as it could. Its President, Justice Aharon Barak, known widely as a champion of civil rights, noted that this case has been among the most strenuous in his legal career, and pressured the sides to settle out of court.
In March 2000 the court ruled in favor of Qa’adan, and noted that Israel’s policies towards the Arab minority were discriminatory and illegal. Yet, the court did not issue an order to Katzir to let Qa’adan lease the land, and was very careful to limit the ruling to this specific case, so as not to create a precedent. In addition, the local Jewish community continued to raise administrative and social obstacles and frustrate Qa’adan’s plans to join the locality. By mid 2005 the family has not moved as yet to Katzir.
The fact that in Israel’s fiftieth year, the state’s highest legal authority still finds it difficult to protect a basic civil right such as equal access of all citizens to state land, provides a telling starting point for pursuing the goals of this paper. In the pages below I wish to offer a new conceptual prism through which the formation of Israel’s regime and its ethnic relations can be explained. A theoretical and empirical examination of the Israeli regime leads me to argue that it should be classified as an ‘ethnocracy’.
The paper begins with a theoretical account of ethnocratic regimes, which are neither authoritarian nor democratic. Such regimes are states that maintain a relatively open government, yet facilitate a non-democratic seizure of the country and polity by one ethnic group. A key conceptual distinction is elaborated in the paper between ethnocratic and democratic regimes. Ethnocracies, despite exhibiting several democratic features, lack a democratic structure. As such, they tend to breach key democratic tenets, such as equal citizenship, the existence of a territorial political community (demos), universal suffrage, and protection against the tyranny of the majority.
Following the theoretical discussion, the paper traces the making of the Israeli ethnocracy, focussing on the major Zionist project of Judaizing Israel/Palestine. The predominance of the Judaization project has spawned an institutional and political structure that undermines the common perception that Israel is both Jewish and
democratic.The Judaization process is also a major axis along which relations between various Jewish and Arab ethno-classes can be explained. The empirical sections of the paper elaborate on the consequences of the ethnocratic Judaization project on three major Israeli societal cleavages: Arab-Jewish, Ashkenazi-Mizrahi, and
The analysis below places particular emphasis on Israel’s political geography. This perspective draws attention to the material context of geographical change, holding that discourse and space constitute one another in a ceaseless process of social construction. The critical political-geographical perspective problematizes issues often taken for granted among analysts of Israel, such as settlement, segregation, borders, and sovereignty. As such it aims to complement other critical analyses of Israeli society.
I highly recommend you read the whole 20 pages paper. Written in 1998 it is sadly still very acutely actual. Here’s a link to a PDF copy: