My Word: Nagging 'Nakba' issues

How to take a 'catastrophe' and make it worse.

I'm a proud Zionist. I could swear I am. I vaguely recall pledging some kind of vow to defend the country when I was in the army. I not only sing Hatikva, I have been known to shed a tear while doing so. And every year I hang the blue-and-white flag outside my apartment - front and back windows - from the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day right through to the end of Jerusalem Day, weeks after Independence Day.
And I ought to make it clear right now: I always celebrate Independence Day - which I call by the Hebrew "Yom Ha'atzmaut" - and I have witnesses. For the past few years I have spent much of the day at an extremely pleasant event held by INFO, the Israel Newsmakers Forum of Mishkenot Sha'ananim, held at Jerusalem's Ein Yael. I'm sure there are plenty of people, including foreign and local journalists, who are prepared to vouch that they saw me there, in a suitably festive spirit. Fortunately, since I am also proudly Jewish, I probably won't need to call on them to testify on my behalf. And I sincerely hope that Arab Israelis will never have to start scrambling to prove that they didn't feel or act miserably on Yom Ha'atzmaut either.
The so-called "Nakba [Catastrophe] bill," proposed by Israel Beiteinu MK Alex Miller, which would make it illegal to mark Yom Ha'atzmaut as a day of mourning, is no cause for celebration.
In a charitable mood, I would say that this is a case of paving a highway to hell with good intentions. In a non-charitable mood, I suspect that the motives were less than honorable. In any mood, it seems to me that this is taking a "catastrophe" and turning it into a disaster.
Attempts to criminalize the Nakba are not going to turn those who mark it into sudden Israeli patriots. If anything, it will make the silent Arab Israeli majority, who are happy with their citizenship and the benefits it brings feel marginalized and alienated. Even more so in the light of the other significant legislation being discussed: the loyalty oath.
Another Israel Beiteinu effort, this law would make receipt of a national identity card conditional on signing a statement and taking a pledge of allegiance. It would also grant the interior minister considerable power to revoke the citizenship of any person who fails to fulfill their commitment to serve in the IDF or any alternative national service.
Unlike the Nakba bill, the loyalty oath is almost enforceable, but no less unnecessary. As Post legal affairs reporter Dan Izenberg pointed out in an analysis last week: You can't legislate people's thoughts, and Israel already has laws against sedition, incitement to violence and terrorism.
If someone violates these laws, on Yom Ha'atzmaut or any other day - no matter what you call it - he can be arrested under the existing legislation. And if somebody is intent on harming the country, he (or she, of course) will think nothing of pledging loyalty and then simply breaking the vow.
How many of the MKs promoting the loyalty oath have in the past ridiculed the idea of freeing terrorists in return for a promise to refrain from future acts of violence? They know that this promise has too often been broken, as numerous bereaved families of terror victims can testify.
Such laws do not make me feel safer. On the contrary. While I support the idea that all citizens should do some kind of national service - either in the military or a suitable civil framework - you cannot force loyalty. Who would you rather have in the army: willing recruits who at least feel it's their duty to serve the state or conscripts whose loyalty is literally being questioned?
THEN THERE is not only the matter of who will enforce these laws (and how) but who will be subject to them. By extension, will any ultra-Orthodox resident of Mea She'arim who treats Yom Ha'atzmaut as any other day - a day in the mourning period of the Counting of the Omer, to be precise - be liable to arrest?
Will kids whose parents don't take them to the traditional Yom Ha'atzmaut barbecue hand them over to the police for an official roasting?
Of course that's ridiculous, but then so is this whole affair.
It reminds me of a joke that went around (in certain circles) following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. A policeman having a haircut asks the barber: "So, what do you think of The Situation?"
Understandably cautious in the atmosphere immediately following the prime minister's murder, the barber replies: "I don't know. Probably the same as you."
"In which case," says the policeman, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to arrest you."
The fact that the Nakba bill could pass the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, despite the opposition of the attorney-general, does not bode well. I'm thankful that Labor's Isaac Herzog and Likud's Michael Eitan voted against it. At least these two ministers not only recognize the importance of freedom of expression but are willing to use it and speak out.
Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), on the other hand, was quoted as saying, without a hint of irony: "It's inconceivable that citizens should openly turn out against Yom Ha'atzmaut and mark it as a day of mourning. This harms Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."
What is threatening the country's democratic nature, Mr. Elkin?
Sadly, not only do such bills harm the very cause they intend to protect, they inflict even more untold damage. These proposals are a gift to the Palestinian propaganda machine. And they also deflect attention from the very real threats facing the country - nuclearizing Iran and its Hamas and Hizbullah henchmen; Syria, which is finding renewed strength and regaining international favor; and a "peace process" that is as likely to blow up as its predecessors.
Will Palestinian incitement and violence stop because of such laws, or will they grow as a result? I hardly dare ask, in case it brings my loyalty into question.