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Tel Aviv University
[Political Psychology] Daniel Bar-Tal speaks of Israeli discrimination and of "failure relates to the continuation of the occupation "

 A Survey of Israel at Sixty
Daniel Bar-Tal

When a state reaches a round-numbered birthday we usually try to evaluate a
balance of its achievements and failures and at the same time ask
questions. The question that I would like to ask is what should be the role
of world Jewry in Israel's attempts to find its way to the future in view
of the crises that it experiences? First let's see the balance as I see it.

The Glass Half Full (See original article for this part)


The Empty Half of the Glass


In discussion about the half empty glass I would like first to highlight
two colossal failures of Israeli society and then to elaborate on more
specific major defaults.

The second colossal failure relates to the continuation of the occupation
of the territories conquered in the Six Day War in 1967. This occupation
underlies many of the problems that Israel is facing and has many negative
implications on life in Israel. The continuation of the occupation of the
territories touches first of all on the security problems and on the moral
soul of the state. The fact that the occupied territories were settled by
Jews adds special folly. This act not only negates international law but
also constitutes one of the biggest barriers to solve the Israeli-Arab
conflict peacefully. In addition, it is estimated that directly and
indirectly Israel spent through the years at least 100 billion shekel to
build the infrastructure, settlements, and roads and maintain their
security, which violate both the Fourth Geneva Convention and Israeli laws.
This act will either bring an end to the nature of the state the founding
fathers dreamed about, or Israel will have to spend almost a similar amount
of money to pay compensation to those who will have to leave their homes,
feeling alienation, frustration and anger.

Institutionalized Discrimination of Arab Minority

Problems of democratic dysfuncti'on are also reflected in the way Israel is
treating its Arab citizens, who are an indigenous minority. Israel is
probably the only current state among the developed countries that is
practicing institutionalized and cultural discrimination of the Arab
minority, including legal discrimination. This discrimination has created,
in essence, an ethnic democracy and not a liberal democracy—a reality in
which structural preference is accorded to the dominant Jewish majority.

Formal discrimination of Arabs by Israeli law and practices is not only
restricted to symbolic areas, but is inseparably linked to continuous
discrimination in every aspect of life. As a result there are continuously
growing gaps between Arabs and Jews in socio-economic and living
conditions in all major areas of life such as housing, health, education,
land, welfare, employment, and more.
The governmental Orr Commission Report, published in 2003, presented for
the first time an official recognition of the depth of discrimination and
institutional exclusion experienced by Israel’s Arab citizens since the
establishment of the state. The report stated that, “the state and all of
its governments have failed to cope deeply and with the difficult
challenges posed by the existence of a large Arab minority within the
Jewish state. The governmental handling of the Arab sector is mostly
characterized by neglect and deprivation. The establishment has not
demonstrated enough sensitivity to the needs of the Arab sector and has not
done enough to assure equal allocation of state resources also to this
sector. The state has not done enough, and has not tried enough, to grant
equality to its Arab citizens and remove manifestations of discrimination
and deprivation”. A special failure is the substantial support of the
discriminative practices by Jews in Israel and normative discourse of Arab
delegitimization. For example in 2007 it was found that about 45 percent of
the Jews in Israel deny existence of Arab discrimination in Israel; about
56 percent of them supported full equal rights between Jews and Arabs,
citizens of the state, but only 22 percent support political equality for
the Arab minority and about 55 percent support a governmental encouragement
of Arab immigration from the state.

The Ruthless Outcomes of Occupation

In my view the most salient sign of the democratic and moral deterioration
of Israeli Jewish society is the lasting occupation. During the years of
the Israeli occupation, a deep-rooted system of dual sets of legal norms
developed in the West Bank: one for the Jewish settlers and one for the
Palestinian population. These dual sets enabled the establishment of a
system of segregation, discrimination and control on ethnic grounds in the
occupied territories, with all the negative implications.

Through the years many thousands of Palestinians, including civilians and
children who were not engaged in any violent activity against Israel, were
killed or injured by the Israeli forces. More than 600,000 of the
Palestinians were arrested through the years of occupation, many thousands
spent years in prisons and as detainees, many were tortured, some were
expelled and their houses demolished. Many aspects of Palestinian
collective and individual lives are controlled by the Israelis and through
the years this has had an immense negative effect on the development of
their economic, societal and political infrastructure. According to UN 2007
report 57 percent of the households in the territories live in poverty. In
principle, this occupied population lives without basic human and civil
rights under continuous humiliation and discrimination that cannot be
accounted for by threats to the security of Israel. As examples it is
possible to provide about 100 checkpoints and several hundred roadblocks
that turn the lives of the Palestinians into a miserable experience, or the
fact that many of the settlements and the outposts were built on private
Palestinian land confiscated under false pretexts, or the attempts to build
security the fence well beyond the green line in order to take hold of more
Palestinian land.

One may claim that this behavior is a result of the threats that the Jews
in Israeli society experience because of Palestinian goals and violent
behaviors, and another one may claim that it is a necessary element of
occupation and that Israel does not differ from other occupying states
through the ages, and in fact is more restrained. These arguments, even if
they are partially valid, cannot account in my view for the scope and
extent of the violations of the Palestinian human and civil rights.

Militarization of the Israeli Society

Another major problem of Israeli society is the dominance of the military
echelon. Compared to other democratic states, the security forces in Israel
and especially the military have determinative influence on policies,
decision-making, and the execution of actions, starting with the policies
of peace and war and up through policies dealing with the allocation of
resources and with infrastructure. Because of this influence military
thinking was adopted by the political echelon, as the military serves not
only as source for intelligence but also as national evaluator and chief
source of strategic plans. The domination of public discourse by the
IDF’s aggressive world-view and its status as epistemic authority brought
about a degradation of moral values within Israeli society. Universal
values of human rights and the sacredness of human life came to be
associated only with the Jewish population.

This fact has a determining effect on the ability to carry out basic
democratic processes such as criticism of the military branch by the
political branch, or inquiry into military operations or “mishaps” by
those who are not in uniform. Comparative studies of the political and
democratic echelons have shown that Israel ranks thirty-sixth and last on
the measure of military involvement in political and social affairs.

Influence of Religion

Israel is a state which did not separate itself from religion. This has an
immense effect on the personal lives of the citizens and violates basic
human and civil rights. For example, matters of marriages and divorces as
well as of conversion to Judaism are under the monopolized responsibility
of Orthodox Jewry. This monopoly creates tremendous problems for many of
the citizens of Israel and especially for those who came in the last wave
of immigration from the former USSR.

Of special importance is the fact that the ultra-religious sector is
growing, with at least two implications. The majority of this sector does
not serve in the army, constituting over 11 percent of the potential
conscripts, and a substantial portion of this sector (over half of the men)
does not work, relying on external financial assistance.

Objections to Peace

In contrast to the well accepted and shared belief among Jews that Israel
never missed an opportunity to embark on the road to peace, the
accumulated evidence indicates that Israel missed opportunities to solve
the Israeli-Arab conflict peacefully and more than once carried out
intransigent policies. Examples range from the refusal of Golda Meir to
engage in negotiations with Egypt about the cease fire, or to accept the
1969 Rogers Plan, ignoring the possibility to try to settle the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict proposed by various security institutions in
1967, the rejection of the London agreement with Jordan in 1987 by Itzhak
Shamir, the decision to declare and treat Arafat as a non-partner after the
failure of the Camp David meeting in 2000, ignoring the Saudi plan
initiated in 2002, up to rejections of the Syrian attempts to begin
negotiations in the recent years. Moreover as the stronger side in the
conflict it is Israel that has much more power to move the conflict towards
its peaceful resolution, but this supremacy rarely is translated into


This essay aims to present the problems Israel is facing and encourage
World Jewry to be aware of the challenges that preoccupy the great majority
of their brothers and sisters in Israel, get involved in the debates and be
part of the struggle about the direction Israel should take in view of the
current crises. This involvement should be of great importance for the Jews
of the world who would like to see Israel as a center for world Jewry, as
an example to other nations, and as a place that in moment of emergency
they will be able to find their refuge.

World Jewry cannot blindly observe Israel and disregard the problems that
it is facing. Israel, on the other hand, should stop the unacceptable and
detrimental practice of asking blind support for the Israel which is
implied by the term “he/she supports Israel” and viewing any criticism
as being anti-Israeli. This relates also to the frequent practice of hiding
and omitting the problems that Israel is facing before the Jewish
visitors, especially the tens of thousands of youth who come every year to
Israel. On the contrary, I believe that supporting Israel means seeing
Israel with all its achievements and deficiencies—and then engaging in
the ongoing debates and striving to create a better society, which is the
best indication of love and care. This is a true nature of patriotism. The
clash over the future of Israel is a crucial struggle. Jews of the world
should not stand as passive bystanders but be part of the forces that shape
the nature of the place where our children and grandchildren live and yours
may live in the future.


Daniel Bar-Tal is a professor of political psychology at Tel Aviv



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