The Never Ending Israeli Quest for Indigeneity

For seven years the Nation State Bill has been chugging its way around the halls of the Knesset. Finally it was voted into Law. Radically altered from the original text the law has nevertheless proven to be controversial.

Read here the English translation of the legislation. There has been a spate of criticism about the passing of the bill. Israeli Arab parliamentarians were predictably bombastic with Ahmed Tibi saying “I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy.” The head of the largely Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh said the Knesset had “passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens”. I find it difficult to buy into any of this, even ironic coming from a powerful Israeli Arab parliamentarian such as himself.

The only part of the new law that has potential for creating problems for Israel is this:

“7 — Jewish settlement

A. The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

This would seem to bring the Knesset into murky waters where it conflicts directly with international law on settlement building in the West Bank. I don’t see that as being different to where Israel is anyway.

MK Yoel Hasson was spot on when he said “what paper do we need so that we will know or feel or understand that this is the state of the Jewish people. Do we need the Nation-State Law just to say that you passed something? Does that make the state the state of the Jewish people? The State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people by virtue of history and not because of a piece of paper. This is a document of a sick person….an insecure person.” 

Israel doesn’t need a law that says these things, it needs a reality that says these things. Whether Arabic is a national language or a language with “special status” 20% of the populace still speak it as their mother tongue.

In all the discourse surrounding this law this statement made by Adam Shapiro, a founder of the International Solidarity Movement (emphasis mine, spelling mistakes his) caught my eye:

“my children arrived in their motherland, palestine, 2 days ago, to be welcomed by #ApartheidIsrael with a new law officially placing them as less than and unequal in the land of their birth, of their ancestors. they are if the indigenous palestinian population that against all odds remains and endures. forget the term citizen – it is meaningless in a state that defines itself by the attempt to erase a people, to claim that people’s culture as its own when profitable, and to mete out a daily routine of absolute control over the most intimate aspects of life. my children grow up proud as palestinians and secure in their identity, a significant act of resistance and resilience. despite all efforts, pains, traumas, massacres, expulsions, etc., the palestinian people remain the #Undefeated. in my own family, i am awed by the strength, resolve and pride of my life partner Huwaida Arraf as she keeps up the struggle and raises these two children as strong palestinians. this long, too long, night will yield to a dawn of justice and liberation for huwaida, diyaar, mayaar and all our family, friends and people. until then, la lucha continua…”

This claim of indigeneity is one that pops up over and over again in debates about Israel. Both sides claim indigeneity and the need to substantiate it. It oozes out of every point in the newly passed law. But coming from Shapiro, an American born Jew, when discussing his Israeli born, American children, who live in the USA,  its a particularly interesting contradiction.

Both Shapiro and his wife were born in the USA, by arguing his children are indigenous to Palestine he’s following the very logic that he claims to hate in Zionism. If a child born outside Palestine to one parent with Palestinian heritage is more indigenous than a Jew born in Jerusalem to Israeli parents then he’s relegating that Israeli to second class status.


The argument about indigeneity should go against everything a proud, left wing liberal stands against. I was born in the UK am I indigenous to the UK? My great grandparents were born in Poland were they indigenous to Poland? (The locals at the time certainly thought not). In the UK those who speak about the rights of the indigenous population are on the very edge of the right wing on the political spectrum. His message really isn’t very far from this:

Were an American to argue that Shapiro’s kids weren’t indigenous to the USA he would find himself on opposite sides of the same argument at the same time.

He also seems quite happy to use antisemitic tropes concerning Jews and money. Hardly the sensitivity one might expect from someone who considers himself to be a champion of human rights.

But the Shapiro’s of the world were here attacking Israel before the Nation State Law and will carry on complaining about Israel after its passage. The real question is when will Israel feel comfortable enough with herself not to feel the need to make statements and enact legislation to tell the world what it already knows; Israel is a Jewish state.