(photo credit: Courtesy)
After the approval of the “Jewish state bill” by the cabinet on Sunday, Israel’s Left now finds itself in quite a tizzy. Furious with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for daring to underscore the Jewishness of the State of Israel, various liberal leaders are foaming at the mouth, their hyperbole matched only by their hubris.
Writing in Haaretz, former education minister Yossi Sarid warned that “we have reached the end of our democratic rope,” while Science Minister Yaakov Peri said that the bill reminded him of “countries that took upon themselves Sharia law.” Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On went even further, blasting it as “a crime against Israeli democracy” and “one of the blackest stains in Israel’s law books.”
So just what is all the fuss about? The proposed law, which defines Israel as the nationstate of the Jewish people while preserving and upholding its democratic character, is based on the principles outlined in the country’s 1948 Declaration of Independence.
Explaining the rationale behind the bill, Netanyahu noted that “Israel is a Jewish democratic state. There are those who want democracy to take precedence over Judaism, and those who want Judaism to take precedence over democracy. In the law that I am proposing, both principles are equal and must be given equal consideration.” Nonetheless, he noted, “There are national rights only for the Jewish people; a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel, and other national symbols.”
In other words, it does not alter Israel’s social reality nor does it harm the non-Jewish minorities which reside in our midst. It simply reinforces the Jewish component of our national self in a manner that ensures it is not overlooked in future legislation and decision-making.
This is an apple-pie issue, or at least it should be. It is a timely and important anchoring of Israel’s Jewish identity in law amid growing attempts at home and abroad to water it down or do away with it altogether.
Only those interested in minimizing the country’s Jewishness or stripping it away completely could possibly object. After all, it merely constitutes an effort to preserve the principles underpinning the state since its founding.
SO DON’T believe all the dire warnings about the law being anti-democratic or anachronistic. These are pure hogwash.
Consider the following: In Great Britain, the queen is required to be a member of the Anglican Church and holds the title of “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” According to the official website of the British monarchy, “Archbishops and bishops are appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who considers the names selected by a Church Commission. They take an oath of allegiance to The Queen on appointment and may not resign without Royal authority.”
Clearly, the Anglican Church is given prominence in British law, its status elevated by the state above that of others.
Would anyone suggest that Great Britain is not a democracy or that its laws are “anti-democratic”? There are numerous other such examples. Greece’s constitution begins with the words “in the name of the holy and indivisible trinity,” and Article 3 states that, “The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ.”
In Denmark, Section 4 of the constitution declares that, “The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the Established Church of Denmark, and, as such, it shall be supported by the State.” And Section 6 requires the Danish king to “be a member of the Evangelical Luthern Church.”
And Iceland’s constitution says in Article 62 that, “The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.”
Does this mean that Athens, Copenhagen and Reykjavik have become hotbeds of anti-democratic theocracy? The opposition to the “Jewish state bill” is purely political. It has nothing to do with the content of the proposed law and everything to do with the hysteria of its opponents, who seem to fear that Israel’s Jewish identity might get equal billing with its democratic values.
The only people afraid of the Jewish nation-state designation are those who fear that we might revel in our Jewishness no less than in our democracy, which is something they find repugnant. What they fail to understand is that states, like the people they comprise, require a clear-cut sense of identity, one that highlights their uniqueness and individuality. Doing so is neither racist nor anti-democratic. It is simply the human – and Jewish! – thing to do.