The key, as is well-known, is a powerful symbol of the Palestinian resistance, and of the Palestinians' claim that they have a right to return to the land and homes. That key is the house-key that Palestinians took with then into exile and that some of them have kept as a zekher le-hurban, a memorial of the Nakbah. As long as the key is cherished, as long as the memory is left alive, there is hope.
Last week, former Chief Justice Aharon Barak spoke of another key, a key to which he has referred in the past as a "golden key". In explaining how the State of Israel can remain both Jewish and Democratic – albeit, with difficulty, and in constant tension – he described the Law of Return as a "special key to enter this state." Only Jews have the key, but once they have entered, there is, or should be, complete equality between citizens, Jews and Arabs. (I haven't yet seen the speech in English. In Hebrew it is here.)
Two keys, then – Ahmad's key, which opens a house that probably no longer exists; Aharon's key, which opens a state that exists, and that provides access to, among other things, Ahmad's house.
That Aharon's key impairs Ahmad's claims is obvious; there is no need to argue that here. But what I wish to show is that the golden key of the Law of Return seriously impairs, and arguably destroys the claim of equality among Israeli citizens that is supposed to be the backbone of Israeli democracy.
Before I explain myself, I will assume as proven the following assumption: That the Israeli Law of Return (together with the Citizenship Law) has no parallel anywhere else in the world. Don't bother to look for any other country that has the same policies as Israel; there isn't any. If you think otherwise, leave responses here. For starters, no other Western nation state considers people belonging to its religio-ethnic group around the world, as already citizens, or potential citizens, simply lacking a formal bureaucratic act. And, to my knowledge, no other Western state lacks a formal route for naturalization for non-citizens or potential citizens In Israel, non-Jews (with the exception of spouses and certain degrees of relatives), can become citizens only on an individual basis. Only a handful – a handful out of thousands – have done so.
To see how the Law of Return inherently discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (a.k.a., Israeli Arabs), consider the following story.
There is a club with eight members, and the club orders a pizza for dinner. At the last minute, four more non-club members show up. They are admitted to the club and given an equal share of the pizza. Now, the original eight are going to get less. This in itself is not unfair, provided that the eight people, or a majority thereof, vote to allow the others in.
But suppose that of the eight people, six are white, and two are black. Suppose also, that the law prohibits, in effect, blacks from entering, and permits, nay, encourages, as many whites as possible to enter. In that case, the blacks as a group are greatly disadvantaged, not only because they have a smaller overall share in the pizza than the whites, but because they will have less say in all subsequent decisions of the club.
Over the last thirty years of the twentieth century, Israel admitted well over a million former Soviet Union immigrants as citizens (not all of them Jews, but all of them non-Arabs.) That means that during the last thirty years, the number of non-Arabs in the population increased significantly. Had there been no F. S. U. aliyah, the percentage of Arabs in the population would have been around 29% today. Because of the aliyah, it is around 19%, and it has been so since 1948. So aliyah directly disadvantaged Israeli Arabs because their share of the pie (better, of the crumbs), and their political clout shrank.
In fact, since their political clout was lessened, so, too, their ability to increase their share of the pie in the future, at least, theoretically.
Now, some will argue that Israel is a Jewish state, and as such, its Arab minority will inevitably not be equal to the non-Arab majority. Fair enough.
But Aharon Barak claims that Israel can have both the Law of Return AND equality among its citizens, a Jewish and a Democratic state.
This is a myth, and the sooner it is laid to rest, the better. The Law of Return inherently discriminates against a group of people – who happen to be citizens and natives -- on the basis of ethnicity alone.
Say it out loud, and say it often.