The Israeli Knesset, dominated by Israel's extreme-right coalition government, is engaged in a flurry of racist, anti-democratic law-making.
Last year Israel's Citizenship Act was amended to require new, non-Jewish Israeli citizens to swear their loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state"; in January the Knesset launched an 'investigation' into Israeli left and human rights organisations. Both were passed over big protests, many-thousands strong.
And on 26 March, Israeli anti-occupation and anti-racist organisation Gush Shalom reported: "In rare late-night session, the Knesset has finally adopted two obnoxious racist laws. Both are clearly directed against Israel’s Arab citizens, a fifth of the population.
"The first makes it possible to annul the citizenship of persons found guilty of offences against the security of the state. Israel prides itself on having a great variety of such laws. Annulling citizenship on such grounds is contrary to international law and conventions.
"The second is more sophisticated. It allows communities of less than 400 families to appoint “admission committees” which can prevent unsuitable persons from living there. Very shrewdly, it specifically forbids the rejection of candidates because of race, religion etc. – but that paragraph is tantamount to a wink. An Arab applicant will simply be rejected because of his many children or lack of military service."
When AWL members and supporters visited Israel and Palestine in November, we took part in a demonstration against this law. That it has passed is very bad news indeed.
The Knesset is also discussing another law which is almost certain to pass in a few weeks: a law to ban boycotts of Israeli settlements in Palestine.
According to Gush Shalom, "the law will punish any person or association publicly calling for a boycott of Israel – economic, academic or cultural. "Israel", according to this law, means any Israeli enterprise or person, in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel. Simply put: it is all about the settlements."
In Britain, as things currently stand, the issue of boycotting the settlements is difficult to separate out from the reactionary and counter-productive drive for a general boycott of Israel. In Israel itself it is quite a different matter. Gush Shalom initiated a boycott of settlement products thirteen years ago as part of a more general political campaign against Israeli colonialism in the Occupied Territories. Recent years have seen actors refuse to perform in Ariel, the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and academics refuse to deal with the 'University Centre' there.
The original draft of the law mandated criminal charges and fines for those who broke it. Left activists welcomed this, because it would have meant the possibility of going to prison in defiance of the law. Now, instead, anyone who feels hurt by a boycott will be given the right to sue its organisers - a process which the well-organised and well-funded settlers can use to paralyse solidarity activists by tying them up in thousands of law suits.
This is a question of democratic rights in Israel, but it is also about making solidarity with Israelis who make solidarity with the Palestinians. Clearly the law is aimed against anti-occupation boycotts, not any others (not, for instance, religious boycotts against non-kosher shops!) This is part of a general stepping up of repression against pro-Palestinian Israelis - symbolised by the case of Israeli anarchist Jonathan Pollak, in jail for taking part in an anti-occupation protest (see here).
The law is also, as Gush Shalom puts it, "blatantly annexationist". It is part of a drive to establish the settlements as a permanent part of Israeli territory. And even as it oppresses the Palestinians, the occupation corrupts Israeli society.
In January, when 20,000 people protested in Tel Aviv against the witch-hunt of human rights groups, Gush Shalom declared "We are not loyal to a government of racists". Both the Palestinians and the Israeli left will need maximum solidarity in fighting that government in the months ahead.