The legal and social constructions of whiteness in the US and of Jewishness in Israel are by no means identical – they converge, diverge, and influence one another in ways well beyond the scope of this piece. That said, Israeli Jewish identity is similar to American white identity insofar as it functions as a racialized settler identity that, in and of itself, constitutes a form of a property. At a basic level, Israeli citizenship and Jewish nationality, as conferred by the state automatically to any Jew in accordance with the Law of Return, constitutes a form of property, since it legally legitimizes an expectation of the right to Palestinian land based on Jewish heritage. Within Israel, the property of Jewish Israeli citizenship manifests itself in the legal privileges granted to prospective and current Jewish homeowners. For instance, Israeli law prohibits the Jewish National Fund, which owns millions of acres of land, from selling or leasing land to non-Jews. Similarly, under Israeli law, local authorities have the right to refuse housing to non-Jews in neighborhoods where “the absorption of an Arab family would deter other Jews from living there.” Jewish legal privilege associated with housing is further amplified in the case of European/Ashkenazi Jews, whose Sephardic counterparts have suffered systematic discrimination in Israel. The state subsidies granted to settlers living in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, with benefits including “financial assistance to build or purchase a house” and “leases for land at rates well below its real value,” provide yet another example of the property inherent in one’s legal status as Jewish Israeli.–
In both the cases of white and Jewish legally constructed supremacies, legal privilege assumes, to borrow Lukacs’ term, “phantom objectivity,” which he defines as “an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and all-embracing as to conceal every trace of its fundamental nature: the relation between people.” In other words, once the legal structure that privileges one group and disenfranchises another is in place, the unequal social reality that the law creates assumes a “naturalness” that disguises its origins. The naturalized power relation between the Israeli and the Palestinian, in turn, allows the former to act on their legal privilege as if they were performing a biologically and divinely predetermined Jewish supremacy and not a deliberately constructed social and legal power.
Last month, an Israeli settler published a piece on Ynet in which she bemoans her guilt vis-à-vis the Palestinian laborers who work on her West Bank settlement. When a Palestinian construction worker saves her child’s life, Racheli Malek-Boda begins to question the theretofore naturalized power relation between settlers and the Palestinians who serve them: “It seemed natural to me that Arabs are building our community, until the week where this strange status quo shattered.”