‘I do not believe that the constitution of any state should contain special clauses guaranteeing its ‘national’ character. I believe it is a good sign if a constitution contains few such clauses. The natural best way is for the ‘national’ character of a state to be assured by the very fact that it has a particular majority.”
These words were spoken by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Revisionist movement and Betar.
The good news is, today, the Jewish population of Israel is the majority, but what of tomorrow?
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Israel numbers 8,842,000, of whom 74.5% are Jews, 20.9% are Arabs with an additional 4.6% Christians, Baha’is and others, which brings the total percentage of non-Jews to 25.5%.
Jerusalem has a population of around 870,000, of whom some 340,000 are Arabs – around 40% of the total, the vast majority of whom live in east Jerusalem.
How would Jabotinsky view the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law? According to his writings, his reaction would be aligned with that of Likud MK Bennie Begin, who abstained in the Knesset vote because the law omitted to state that Israel, as a Jewish and democratic nation, is committed to safeguarding the rights of its minorities.
Arabic has been downgraded to “special status,” when hitherto it was recognized, with Hebrew, as an official language, and a law passed two days before the Nation-State Law, limits Palestinian access to the High Court of Justice while expanding the jurisdiction of Israeli law to Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria. MK Yael German warns that could be a stepping stone to annexation. All of this can contribute to a negative perception of Israel.
The above, coupled with the fact that members of the government talk less about a two-state solution and more about the annexation of Judea and Samaria which, should this ensue, will present Israel with 2.16 million Arab citizens living under Israeli jurisdiction. Would they receive a vote like every other Israeli? If not, we are forfeiting the right to call ourselves a democratic state.
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Amal Asad, a member of the Druze community, said in a radio interview, “According to the current clauses of the law, anyone who is not Jewish is not accepted and needs to leave. It feels like I am no longer an Israeli... Netanyahu is prepared to sell off values for a few seats in the Knesset... How long can we stand it? Four hundred and fifty Druze soldiers did not sacrifice themselves for this.” To date, three Druze officers have resigned from the IDF, with more threatening to resign.
Following the negative reaction of Druze members in the Bayit Yehudi Party, its leader, Naftali Bennett, said, “These are our blood brothers who stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the battlefield and who have entered into a life covenant with us. We, the government of Israel, have the responsibility of finding a way to repair the rift.” A somewhat strange reaction seeing that he and fellow party member Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have been consistent staunch advocates of the Jewish Nation-State Law.
Another back-peddler, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu, said “The enactment of the Nation-State Law was done hastily... we were wrong and we need to fix it.” Could these ministers not have anticipated the backlash?
In an unprecedented demonstration organized last Saturday night by leaders of the Druze community, tens of thousands of Israelis from across the religious divide came together to protest the passing of this Basic Law.
spoke with Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and professor emeritus at the Hebrew University. He explained that this Nation-State Law is a Basic Law which, unlike a regular law, is difficult to repeal. This will be put to the test when Druze Zionist Union MK Saleh Saad, Baka al-Gharbiya Mayor, Morsi Abu Mukh and the Meretz Party will each petition the High Court, claiming that the law discriminates against the country’s minorities.
Opponents to the bill (prior to its passing into law) include President Reuven Rivlin and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, both expressing concern as to the damage it might cause to Israel’s global standing.
Aside from the negative reaction from international leaders, major Jewish organizations in the Diaspora are expressing consternation at the passing of this law. The United Kingdom’s Board of Deputies of British Jews, the US’s Anti-Defamation League and its Israeli Office see this law as regressive, raising questions as to Israel’s long-term commitment to its pluralistic identity and democratic nature.
Of disturbing concern is the turning away from Israel by Diaspora Jewry. There is unease at the growing number of Jewish students who are identifying with the Palestinian narrative, the result of their ignorance of Jewish/ Zionist history coupled with the millions of dollars that the Arabs have invested on campuses worldwide specifically to promote the Palestinian cause.
BACK TO Jabotinsky’s belief that the way for Israel to remain a Jewish state is for it to have a majority of Jews as its citizens. In place of introducing superfluous laws (Israel’s Declaration of Independence makes it absolutely clear that we are a Jewish state) we should be focusing on bringing Jews together. We should be welcoming those who wish to convert rather than pushing them away; we should be encouraging alternative ways of marrying under a huppah in Israel rather than only through the Chief Rabbinate. We should value the support of Jews in the US irrespective of with which branch of Judaism they identify.
We must concentrate on bringing more young leaders to this country to see the wonders of what has been achieved in a mere 70 years – to offer training to those about to enter the hostility of the university campus.
We should be in the business of encouraging Jews to come and live here rather than witnessing Jews choosing to leave. Between 2012 and 2015, according to Homeland Security, 17,770 Israelis took up residence in the US while 12,000 American Jews moved here.
Since the year 2000, some 33,000 Israelis have taken German citizenship. According to former MK Aryeh Eldad, 20,000 Israelis have made Germany their permanent home. Eldad claims this is because of cheaper housing and cheaper food products such as cottage cheese – reminders of the 2011 “Summer of Discontent.” Whatever happened to the demands to bring down the price of homes and food here? Where are the new laws to change this unacceptable situation?
As the generation privileged to witness the rebirth of the State of Israel in our time, we are obliged to find ways of living together in unity while adhering to the principles expounded in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, namely, that of being a Jewish and democratic state with equality for all its citizens.
The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.
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