Palestinians in Israel: Ethnocracy, not democracy

Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy, by Ben White, reviewed by Richard Kuper
May 2012

This is a short, readable guide to the realities of life for Palestinian citizens of Israel. Notionally equal, they suffer widespread discrimination. It is, White argues, systematic, not accidental – built into the fabric of the so-called ‘Jewish and democratic’ state.

The burdens to which Palestinian citizens of Israel are subject are explored under five headings: the nature of the state; the land regime; the ‘demographic threat’; discrimination in other aspects of daily life; and how the system in Israel thwarts democratic change.

When the Jewish and democratic aspects of the state are perceived to be in conflict, it is the former that trumps the latter. Any attempt to advocate change to make Israel into a state of all its citizens is widely perceived as a threat to the very existence of the state itself. Discrimination is seen most clearly in the areas of citizenship and land rights, but it expresses itself in almost every aspect of daily life – education, government and private employment, and a pervasive racism on the streets.

All Jews, no matter where they live, are by definition entitled to Israeli citizenship; most Palestinians are not. Following 1947, the Palestinians that remained as notionally ‘full citizens’ of the state of Israel cannot in reality live in over 90 per cent of the country. Efforts to Judaise the Galilee and the Negev have been intensified in response to Palestinian population growth – perceived as a ‘demographic threat’ – with Jewish settlements built up around the Palestinian population or Palestinians forced off their land entirely.

The book also outlines how Palestinian citizens are on average much poorer and less well-educated, and have a much lower percentage of state and municipal funding directed their way than do Jewish citizens. Israel is, White shows, not a genuine democracy but an ethnocracy: ‘The truth is that policies that would be considered grotesquely racist applied in other contexts are routine and institutionalised in Israel.’

This is an important book, dealing with a much-neglected but key aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


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David Stern 30 May 2012, 15.15

Do we really expect Israeli Jews to treat Palestinians the same as their fellow Jews and greet them with open arms? The Palestinians have been trying to wipe out the Jews for over 60 years. They have call for the destruction of Israel every day. They have openly expressed their Jew hatred , they teach their children Jew hatred, they have launched intifadas, suicide bombings, kidnaps, slaughtered babies by slitting their throats, bombed cafes, hotels.etc etc. How can you expect the Jews of Israel to ignore all this and act as if everything is ok…..


Kate 1 June 2012, 08.05

To David Stern – I think you’ll find most of the ‘hatred’ is going the other way.

Palestinians have a right to be angry that Israel has taken their land, demolished their villages, waged war on them for decades, etc.

Israelis’ hatred of Palestinians, on the other hand, is based far more on the idea that they are a ‘demographic threat’ – that is, if Palestinian citizens are allowed to thrive and breed, they are perceived to threaten the Jewishness of the Jewish state.

A more racist ideology than that you will not find. But that is what lies behind the apartheid-style laws and attitudes that govern the Israeli state’s relationship with those Palestinians who are supposed to be its own citizens.


Colin Smith 20 June 2012, 09.40

To David Stern: If you had been the victim of ethnic cleansing by a colonial settler movement that has no roots in the region, which forcefully expelled 850,000 Palestinians, which leveled 531 Palestinian villages and replaced them with Zionist settlements, whose people were raped, assassinated, subjected to organized murder and atrocities, as in at least 50 villages in Palestine, whose homes were leveled and looted, whose ancient books were destroyed or seized and held forever, who have been subjected to one of the most shameful episodes in human history, a veritable crime against humanity, I’d feel a tad irritated too. Grow up David. Go find the facts, not the propaganda produced by the Zionist state. You stole land in 1948 that belonged to others, you stole it violently and cruelly, with that strutting arrogance that echoes the Afrikaners and Nazis whose techniques you emulate. That you did not value the Palestinian inhabitants of the land testifies to the violent racism at the heart of Zionism and the Israeli State. As every day passes the world learns more about the atrocities committed by the IDF, and turns against Israel.


Ryan Connelly 27 June 2012, 20.23

To Colin Smith,you seem to be somewhat mixed up. there were actually nio such thing as “palestinians” until the 1970s – when they were invented by the Soviet Polit bureau.

Indeed, the adjective “palestinian” was if anything used to describe the Jewish community of the Land before Israel was created. Hence, the newspaper the “Palestine Post” or the “Palestine Philharmonic orchestra”.

So you really must get your history sorted out or else you risk sounding like a complete idiot (which I am sure you are not).


Fathi 22 February 2013, 22.13

Ryan what you are saying is 100% false, there was already a Palestinian identity during the final days of the Ottoman empire where Palestinian leaders sought to distinguish themselves from the rest of greater Syria.

Furthermore, it doesn’t matter what they referred to themselves, or if they had an identity or not, they were still people that Zionists ethnically cleansed and destroyed hundreds of their villages to establish Israel.

It is you who should get your history sorted, because you are spouting Zionist myths that no historian worth his salt could confirm.



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