The nation-state bill is a constitutional abandonment of diaspora Jewry

This bill is superfluous and will do far more harm than good.

By
July 12, 2018 22:38
4 minute read.
An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City . (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

 
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In its newly revised version, the Nation-State Bill, which has been problematic since its inception, reaches new lows by effectively abandoning Diaspora Jewry. In the wording of the bill up for discussion by the Knesset in the next few days, we find that “the state will act in the Diaspora to preserve the link between the state and the members of the Jewish people.”

Previously the bill said that state will act to preserve the link everywhere – in Israel and in the Diaspora as well. This legalistic turn of phrase has great practical significance, as it essentially allows the government of Israel to carry out any action in Israel that may harm Jews in the Diaspora or Israel’s relationship with them. This small yet far-reaching change was made against the background of the tensions with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and the struggle to define prayer norms at the Western Wall, and paves the way for the state to exclude international Jewish sectors from the process. The supporters of the bill claimed that one of its pillars was providing a legal-constitutional status to the connection of the State of Israel with Jews in the Diaspora, yet what has emerged is precisely the opposite. Instead of strengthening the bridge with the Diaspora, the State of Israel is placing more explosives beneath it, which are one day certain to destroy it.

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This bill is superfluous and will do far more harm than good. The main argument made by the bill’s supporters in the coalition is the need for a basic law with constitutional weight, that will define the values and symbols that constitute the basis of Israel’s Jewish national foundations. One such value is the link between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, and the legitimacy of allocating state funds for Jews outside Israel’s borders. There is no question that the link between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is strong and obvious, but now, say the bill’s supporters, it will have constitutional roots in a basic law, and will be given the recognition and status it deserves.

In practice, however, once this basic law is passed, Israel may well be on the path to abandoning Diaspora Jewry. The state, bolstered by this basic law, and prone to resolute pressure by the ultra-Orthodox, will be “free” to make decisions in Israel that affect the entire Jewish People, without having to consider the ramifications on Diaspora Jews. Israel, which has become increasingly traditional and nationalist in recent years, is already less of a home to many Jews around the world. In light of this reality, it would have behooved the government of Israel to take active steps to draw the Jewish world closer to us. But it has done the opposite. In a series of decisions taken by the current government during its years in charge – foremost among them the cancellation of proposed arrangements on the Western Wall and conversion – it has only deepened the chasm between Israel and the majority of world Jewry. Jews in other countries who take note of the policies of the Israeli government have seen time and again that it couldn’t care less about them.

The revised wording of the Nation-State Bill would anchor this alienation in a constitutional document. The change in language is designed to allow the government to continue to pay no heed to Diaspora Jewry, and to prevent a situation in which anyone could claim that government actions or Knesset legislation that are detrimental to Diaspora Jewry are in fact unconstitutional. The law would also create an absurd situation in which the government is obliged to act in the interests of Diaspora Jews outside of Israel, but can ignore them entirely within the borders of the state. This government’s policy of disregarding Diaspora Jewry is one thing, but establishing a constitutional basis for such a policy is a far more serious matter.

It would essentially be an incontrovertible declaration by the Knesset and the government (albeit wrapped in fancy packaging that makes reference to preserving the link with Diaspora Jewry) that it will not be willing to do anything for the sake of that relationship that carries an internal price within Israel.

The Nation-State Bill contains some useful clauses, some harmless ones, and several that are downright bad. One clause that had the potential to both useful and positive was the section relating to the link with Diaspora Jewry. But now, in its current form that allows the government of Israel to continue with its policy of turning a blind eye and to act as it pleases with no consideration for Diaspora Jewry – with the backing of a basic law – it has been transformed from a hand outstretched in greeting to one waving goodbye.

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The writer is the director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State, and lectures in law at the Peres Academic Center.

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