One Year Later: Nation-State Law dented, but didn't damage, Israel's image

The law stated that the Land of Israel is the historical homeland and nation state of the Jewish people.

July 18, 2019 23:27
3 minute read.

Druze-Israelis protest the Nation-State Law. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The controversial Nation-State Law that launched dozens of protests, hundreds of condemnatory statements and millions of words of commentary and analysis was passed by the Knesset exactly a year ago.

That law – formally entitled Basic Law: Israel, the Nation State of the Jewish People – stated, among other things, that the Land of Israel is the historical homeland and nation-state of the Jewish people, and that the exercise of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jews.

It also stated, among its more controversial clauses, that Hebrew is the state language, with Arabic enjoying a special status; and that the state shall act in the Diaspora to preserve ties between Israel and the Jewish people.

Outrage poured in from all corners, from Druze and Arabs who held that they were being regulated to second-class citizens; and from Jews abroad outraged by the clause on the Diaspora, arguing that it was a way to further shunt to the side the Reform and Conservative movements.

Headlines warned of alienating both Israel’s minorities and Jews abroad, and of the possibility of significant damage to the country as a result of how the law was being interpreted.

A year later, according to one senior diplomatic source, the conclusion in Jerusalem is that while Israel’s image suffered a blow as a result of the law, there was no real diplomatic fallout to speak of. No country lowered the level of diplomatic ties as a result of the law, or barred Israeli delegations or canceled visits to Jerusalem. The damage, he said, was strictly to Israel’s brand.

Ido Aharoni – Israel’s former consul-general in New York who, during his career at the Foreign Ministry, became an expert or branding – agrees with this assessment.

“Practically, when you examine what happened in the usual diplomatic toolbox, the damage is almost insignificant,” said Aharoni, today a professor of international relations at New York University. “However, as a brand, it was a spectacularly unnecessary display of a lack of self-confidence.”

He added that Jerusalem was “lucky” that, at a diplomatic level, this was not taken seriously and “was seen as yet another political maneuver within Israel’s political cacophony.”

According to Aharoni, “this is not being perceived as something that has come out of a profound political debate, or profound political discussion, but it is actually being looked at as a cheap political maneuver.”

Regarding Israel’s “brand,” Aharoni said, the law projects a sense that with all of Israel’s “amazing achievements,” it is a nation “stricken with anxiety.” The country’s Declaration of Independence was a “brilliant document” that did not need to be augmented by this law, which he argued hurt what Israel should celebrate: its diversity and pluralism.

This inflicted “damage on the brand because it is a display of a lack of self-confidence,” he said. “We are a proud nation, and don’t need anybody to tell us who we are.”

 The essence of branding, he explained, is “to define your offering based on the DNA of your brand. Nobody needs to tell New Yorkers who they are. They know who they are. They know what their city is about. We have a solid value and solid contribution to make to the world. And the obsession with what others say – or what we want to hear them say – is not good for the brand.”

Former MK Michael Oren, who served as Israel’s envoy to the US, agreed that the law has had little diplomatic impact, but rather “is another arrow in the quiver” for those who want to delegitimize Israel.

Israel, he said, is predicated on Jewish national rights and equal civil rights for everyone. But those who want to cast Israel as “racist,” now use this law as evidence.

“The law gives ammunition to BDS activists and others who want to malign Israel,” Oren said, adding that the damage it did was to Israel’s image, not to its diplomatic standing in the world.

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