Israel’s Nation-State Law: Not unnecessary but defective

The Israeli Nation-State Law is not unnecessary, but it is defective. It ignores the value of equality for every newborn, for every human being.

August 11, 2018 22:21
4 minute read.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) at the Knesset August 8, 2018.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) at the Knesset during a discussion on the Nation-State Law August 8, 2018.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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The Israeli Nation-State Law is not unnecessary, but it is defective. It ignores the value of equality for every newborn, for every human being.

The legislation, which passed in the Knesset last week, crystallizes the obvious – that Israel is a Jewish state, the embodiment of Jewish self-determination.

Favors to the Druze and Circassion minorities in return for their exercising good citizenship, which should be highly regarded and respected, are cold comfort.

They would merely create a third, in between class of Israelis. Perhaps the equality excluded is not directed at minorities at all, but rather at the various streams of the Jewish majority.
Israel was established in 1948 as the homeland of the Jewish people on its historical land after 2000 years of dispersion.

Israel’s recognition by the United Nations was critically important at the time, but in recent years, especially following the undisputed success of the Zionist Movement, many are de-legitimizing its right to exist as a Jewish state.

Moreover, the pre-state Arab community, who were offered a share of the land in 1947 and the possibility of living and flourishing side-by-side in peace declared war instead.

They were backed by the entire Arab world. Still today, following decades of negotiations to achieve a two-state solution, the Palestinian negotiators are not ready to recognize Israel’s Jewish character.

Their goal is to divide the land into two entities, an autonomous Palestinian state and a bi-national Israel. Their leaders have made it clear: “You can define yourself as Jewish; what does that have to do with us?”

Judaism is counted as a religion and sometimes as a civilization, but it is also a nationality.

Jerusalem was not only where Jewish prayers were directed for two millennia, it embodied the very hope of sovereignty and freedom. It is true that as in the Arab camp, also on the Jewish side there are ideological groups demanding the right to all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

But Israel’s official leadership has agreed to a two-state solution ever since the original 1947 partition plan. This is why a significant majority of Israelis support declarative Nation-State legislation to enshrine in law the symbols of the state: the blue stripes and Star of David of the flag; the seven-branched menorah; “Hatikvah,” as the national anthem.

They consider Jerusalem to be the only capital uniting them and the revived Hebrew, their common language. Time, for them, is organized according to the Jewish calendar. There are 22 states where Arabic is the official language, so granting Arabic special status in Israel without any impact on its previous standing sounds reasonable.

Despite this support, most Israelis are embarrassed and outraged by the omission of an equality clause such as the one that appears in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence: “The Jewish state will ensure the equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

This explains the tens of thousands of protesters who gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in solidarity with the Druze community and the many events around the country in sympathy with Arabs and other minority communities.

My family attended one of them in Abu Ghosh, the Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Hundreds of Jews from neighboring towns turned out in a show of unity. It was not political. It just illustrated the deep frustration with the relegation of minorities to second class status.

The loyalty of the Arabs of Abu Ghosh to the Jewish community precedes the founding of the state. The Abu Ghosh leadership made it clear that although they feel part of Israel as a Jewish state, they will not abide inferior standing.

A scan of the history of opposition, to clauses of equality in Israeli legislation, suggests that it may have more to do with divisions among Jews themselves than Israeli Arabs and other minorities. The traditional opposition to the language of equality has come from the Orthodox political parties attempting to preserve their monopoly over Judaism.

The Western Wall controversy is just one example. Menachem Begin, the legendary right-wing leader, who embodied liberalism, would be appalled by any nation-state legislation that excludes integral equality language. The only possible explanation is that their ideological descendants have surrendered to religious political pressure.

The tikkun (remedy) for the NationState Law should not come through cancellation or placating the Druze and Circassions, but by ensuring that equality for all is clearly asserted in Israeli law. The author is the President of the Jewish People Policy Institute. This piece expresses his personal views.

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