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Is the 'Jewish nation-state' bill good for anyone at all?

A law seeking to prioritize and designate Israel as the Jewish nation-state is exposing the crazies in Israel’s government. This proposed basic law would codify and demarcate the state as something that belongs only to a subset of its citizens.

The cabinet on Sunday passed a preliminary reading of a law — with the weight of a constitutional amendment — that would declare Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. In order to pass the vote, Prime Minister Netanyahu put forward 14 principles on which the basic law’s final wording will be based. Democracy is in there as an afterthought, equality treated weakly by guaranteeing individual rights, and allowing all people to preserve their culture and language.

Here are seven of the main reasons why “Basic Law: Israel – the National State of the Jewish People” is wrong for Israel and should not be passed.

No solutions. The prime minister’s 14 articles do not deal with cost of living and they do not protect the residents of Sderot or the woman whose house was burned yesterday by violent Israeli extremists. It doesn’t lower tuition fees for students or the price of chocolate pudding, connect Negev Bedouin to the water grid or create jobs for factory workers laid off in Arad. It doesn’t address the growing chasm with the Western world and the crisis of relations with the U.S. Yet this is what the government is doing while its citizens wait, and suffer.

Freeze a flawed reality. While the proposed basic law will effect little tangible change, it will go a long way toward anchoring the current situation of de facto discrimination into law. I recently got into a big argument with a foreigner who accused Israel of being racist in its “DNA.” I was heated. “Like all human beings, people can change,” I shot back. “Bad regimes can turn to other directions.”

Now the law is making exclusivity and inequality part of Israel’s legal DNA. Yes we are changing – but not in the right direction.

Clinging to crazy. The debate over the proposed Jewish nation-state law exposes the deepening isolationism of the small clutch of extremists at the country’s helm. They long ago isolated Israel from the Western and Arab worlds. Now, just as the prime minister and his henchmen contradict their own security chiefs when the latter don’t fall into line, this bill pits its plotters against Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein said the proposed Jewish nation-state law dilutes democracy, sharply criticizing the government’s intention to support it. To which Likud MK Yariv Levin, one of the bill’s sponsors, snarled back:

The attorney general’s statements are arrogant and have nothing to do with his position as attorney general or with the legal world. The question of the image of the state and its fundamental values on which it will continue to be built, are given, in a democracy, to the public and only the public through its elected representatives, and under no circumstances must it become the private realm of a group of jurists who are trying to place themselves above the Knesset. (As quoted in Haaretz — my translation.)

It seems that Levin, and probably numerous other ministers, has lost his marbles. The attorney general has overstepped his boundaries by providing a legal opinion to the government about the imminent passage of a law with constitutional status? The character of the state is to be determined in a way that rejects checks and balances? The Hebrew term for attorney general is “legal advisor to the government,” for crying out loud.

Then there’s Levin’s imaginary cabal of jurists levitating themselves above the Knesset. In fact, there is a very real gang of supremacist thugs leading the country into an abyss.

Constitutional-coup. The bill is part of a minority imposed creeping constitution instead of a healthy participatory process. Other basic laws were passed this way too, but those were more amendments; this one involves national self-definition that reads like the body of a constitution. The kind that should be put to wider public debate or at least not by an extremist coalition as part of coalition horse-trading.

What could the law mean if passed? Theoretically, but quite realistically, it could enable the High Court of Justice to uphold a law that violates the equality of Israeli citizens, since the Jewish nation-state law would provide constitutional foundations for privileging Jews over all others.

As normal as ethno-nationalism. Some insist that it is hypocritical and maybe even anti-Semitic to protest a simple law of national self-definition, when ‘France is for the French people,’ or ‘Germany is the land of the German people.’ Can we lay this argument to rest already? In those examples citizenship overlaps with nationhood. Yes, France is for the French. But what makes someone French is not birth or ethnicity alone, but citizenship.

This proposed basic law would codify and demarcate the State of Israel as something that belongs only to a subset of its citizens. State rights will not overlap with citizenship; they privilege a subset of citizens. Non-Jewish citizens have no route to sharing in the privileged national group. Being Israeli won’t be enough to live equally in this country. In fact, the state has consistently rejected the very idea that there is an Israeli nationality.

The true comparison is simple: the law says Israel is for the Jews, just as America once said America is for whites.

Avalanche of inequality. This is a time of worsening relations between Jews and Arabs/Palestinians in Israel.

Anyone who says this law is mainly a cover for coalition and electoral politics that won’t make a difference in real life, should look at another recent example. In 2009 a politician invented a fictional concept of Arab disloyalty, to arouse nationalist jingoism and get elected. The slogan itself, “No loyalty, no citizenship,” was a political marketing ploy. Once that politician entered the halls of power, it became his legislative vision, leading to a string of nasty, exclusionary, hate-inspired bills linked to this concept. Some of them passed.

The Nakba Law rejects the history of the Arab population; the Acceptance Committee Law rejects housing integration, the amendment to the Citizenship Law rejects their presence by keeping families apart. Now the foreign minister — recently joined by the prime minister — calls to strip their citizenship altogether, for no crime at all.

What will the nationality law be the beginning of?

Stoking rage. The prime minister says the law was devised to anchor Jewish identity in the face of growing challenges to the character of the state. Here is the challenge to my identity in Israel: rising strife, and the fact that a football match between Jewish and Arab teams requires one security person for every seven fans; frenzied chants of “death to Arabs” in a growing number of situations. Doesn’t the need for peaceful relations among fellow countrymen mean anything, or is the government only concerned with the phantom threats of “delegitimization,” which if it happens, is primarily due to developments like this?

This law is fearful. It is not closing the chapter on Israel’s tense relationship between Jewish identity and the State, as I once hoped possible; it is opening the window to acid rain.

It is creating a false god, a Judaism that is primarily political, material, imposed, devoid of humanity or humility.

Related:
Why I oppose recognizing Israel as a Jewish state
WATCH: Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or an ‘ethnocracy?’
‘Religion and politics’ in Israel: The mythology of Jewish nationalism

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    COMMENTS

    1. Haifawi

      It was only a matter of time for this to happen. If you’re going to talk about a ‘Jewish State,’ you might as well make it one.
      For too long Israel has been able to pretend to not be an ethnonationalist expansionist enterprise. This is finally making it clearer for everyone to see.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      This law should be named after Sheldon Adelson. I think this is what he meant by “good things in life” – when you get to stick it to the Arab SOB’s. And if Israel won’t be a democracy, so f*%king what?

      Does anyone else notice that Israel is looking more and more like him with every passing day? I think the day is not far when his face will grace your money and your children will sing songs of praise to him in kindergarten.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lo

      Well, your high court has already said that there’s no such thing as an “Israeli” when it comes to the national population registry.

      Say what you will about hyphenated-Americans, but at least the core of their national identity is right there.

      Just like Israel’s borders and its constitution, it seems like this issue is left in the air to allow ad hoc, circumstantially advantageous reasoning when the state is forced to acknowledge its policies.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Yeah, right

      The basic (hah!) problem is this: most – if not all – of the states that Israel likes to compare itself to equate “nationality” with “citizenship”. They are one and indivisible.

      But “ethnicity” is regarded as something completely different.

      Not so in Israel.

      In Israel “nationality” and “ethnicity” are the synonyms, while “citizenship” is something else entirely.

      So in Israel it is impossible – utterly impossible – to have your “nationality” recorded as “Israeli”, precisely because that’s “only” your “citizenship”.

      And “citizenship” is something that the state can grant to you or strip from you.

      Reply to Comment
    5. I don’t think anybody claiming that declaring the State of Israel will solve poverty etc.

      I see nothing wrong with being Israel Jewish. I grew up in England which is Christian country.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, right

        RF: “I grew up in England which is Christian country.”

        Indeed true, but its claim to be a “Christian country” is based only upon the indisputable demographic fact that Most Englishmen are Christian.

        It isn’t defined as a “Christian country” on the basis that England Belongs Only To The Christians, And Everyone Else Simply Lives There.

        You do understand that there is a fundamental difference between those two propositions, right?

        Reply to Comment
    6. “Then there’s Levin’s imaginary cabal of jurists levitating themselves above the Knesset. In fact, there is a very real gang of supremacist thugs leading the country into an abyss.”

      They must love isolation. And when the deliberate isolation causes continued chaos on the homefront, who will these thugs blame? Certainly not themselves, but everyone else will pay the price.

      “The Nakba Law rejects the history of the Arab population; the Acceptance Committee Law rejects housing integration, the amendment to the Citizenship Law rejects their presence by keeping families apart. Now the foreign minister — recently joined by the prime minister — calls to strip their citizenship altogether, for no crime at all.

      What will the nationality law be the beginning of?”

      Why don’t they just call them the Nuremberg Laws and be done with it?

      The masks have certainly come off and we see the true character of Netanyahu and his government; a racist band of thugs that will not stop. The Israelis who think this will make them safe have gotten used to their cage. You’ll get what you deserve and lose everything you have coveted.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Utemia

      I find this whole issue oddly anachronistic in the 21st century. And especially so since Israel claims for itself to be a democratic nation that has the values and institutions that make up a modern 1st world western nation.

      But European nations had to go through the process of defining what “nationality” means for them, and in Germany and elsewhere this lead to revolutions and wars aplenty. Israel has to go through this process, and hopefully it will come out intact at the end.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Witty

      Its not good for me.

      I’m a Jew that believes that the promise of the land, and a good life in the land is conditional.

      “If you keep my commandments”, especially those that speak of treating one’s neighbors well.

      This is a theological fight to claim both Jewishness (authoritative rather than ethical) and Zionism (an #or# construction of Jewish haven or democratic, rather than the homeostatic #and# construction of nation – homeostatic meaning balance of different logics)

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        It is not a theological but a political fight. The right is pushing for something it knows will be popular with its voters. The centre and left are trying to hang onto to something to appeal to their base of voters.

        The actual bill will probably never pass and if it does it will be a watered down version. Netanyahu’s watered down version with its protections of minority rights seems to be a vague redundant expression of what is already in the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. The Bill is not really necessary for the country but it makes room for differentiation among the political parties.

        Whatever Israel’s democracy decides on this issue is fine with me.

        Reply to Comment
        • I think there is a lot more at stake than politics.

          Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          Definitely a fight in both spheres, political and religious.

          A critical one to understand clearly, deeply (as if it were to be the law of the land for centuries), and articulate preferences.

          Both Zionism and democracy are #and# constructions (two simultaneous characteristics or else they are not Zionism, or not democracy).

          Jewish state is not Zionism. Democratic state that is a haven for Jews is Zionism. #and#, Jewish majority and democratic.

          Democratic is also an #and# construction. Majority rule #AND# color-blind equal rights.

          One without the other is not democracy.

          Zionism in its original #and# construction is very progressive, very attractive.

          zionism in its nationalist only iteration is regressive, unattractive, a tyrrany to live in for Jews or non-Jews alike.

          Reply to Comment
    9. I really appreciate your opinion – it’s close to my understanding too.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Tomer

      It is for Israelis to decide upon their state’s nature. Foreign Americans should have NO SAY in it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Utemia

        Yes, it is entirely up to Israelis.. how nice of you to reference Israelis and not “Jews” here, because as far as I am aware there are not only Jews living in Israel. Isn’t there a substantional non-Jewish minority living in Israel? And they are Israeli, too, right?

        Consequently, according to your logic, they should have a voice and be considered in this decision as well, shouldn’t they.

        The fact that the bill is titled “The Jewish Nation State Bill” speaks volumes in on itself in this context – and is why a lot of people outside of Israel find this hair raising and a very worrying development.

        But ultimately, it is an issue that is entirely up to all Israelis, you are absolutely correct.

        Reply to Comment
        • Baladi Akka 1948

          Tomer is a Feiglin-follower. In 99% of his comments he’s speaking about Moshe-I-admire-Hitler-Feiglin and how he’s going to expel all the Araboushim from the Land-of-the-Chosen when he becomes the Prime Minister.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            On another thread here I confronted ‘Trespasser’ with the fact that he called Yitzhak Rabin a “scumbag” and asked him if Yigal Amir was his hero. He responded by asking me if Eichmann was my hero. I told him that was interesting because ‘Tomer’ openly urges expelling the Palestinian Arabs from “The Land”–forced population transfer–and that Eichmann was very good at that. Trespasser replied that that was not what Eichmann was prosecuted for. Trespasser seemed to have no idea that forced population transfer was precisely what Eichmann excelled at, what he made his name on in climbing the Nazi hierarchy–that forced population transfer was precisely what was Eichmann’s real role in perpetrating the Shoah. This is the level of ignorance or worse one is dealing with with these types. They do not even realize that in openly urging forced population transfer of people based on race and politics they recall Adolf Eichmann in a nightmarish episode in their own grandparents’ history. In other words these Jewish men want to be Nazi-Lite: As in “hey, population transfer is ok man, we’re not going to put the Arabs in ovens at the other end, we just want to shove them into Jordan and we’ll only kill the ones who resist.”

            Reply to Comment
      • I agree with you and respect your feelings on this. I think Israelis and in particular their elected officials should keep out of the affairs of the United States and have zero input on american policy-making.

        I hope you’ll see the 2-way street here and appreciate it, even if you may not agree.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          When the United States keeps out of the affairs of other nation states, including Israel, Israel and other states can do the same.

          Reply to Comment
          • Utemia

            It’s really not the issue whether one nation keeps out of the affairs of another one, since that has been practically going on for forever.. conventionally, this practice is subsumed under “Diplomacy”.

            As long as there a mutual interest groups, there will be jockying to translate that into political power and policy.

            Reply to Comment
          • You mean when hell freezes over? Why didn’t you just say so.

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            I am just saying that Israel is doing nothing different from other countries including the United States. So why single out the Jewish State as if no other state intervenes in the affairs of other states?

            Reply to Comment
          • Because Israel is the issue here in this space, +972. Israel is the topic at hand as of right now in this space and is not being picked on. It’s impossible to discuss Israel exclusively because the US and Israel have this “special relationship” we’ve been stuck with for what, 50 years?

            Reply to Comment
          • Utemia

            Marnie, it is usually not the worst thing to pressure people or groups with “consequences” in this context. Diplomacy is usually all about finding a compromise, after all.

            And Pedro X is right, this looks more like a political add campaign, which is especially potent in the current atmosphere. That doesn’t make it less worrying, though.

            Reply to Comment
      • MuslimJew

        “Foreign Americans should have NO SAY in it.”

        Foreign Israelis should have stayed within the borders they formally defined and declared, in May 1948.

        Asshole Zionist-Jew lunatics inciting others to commit genocide should be taken to a place where the walls are nice and soft.

        Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Ok Tomer fine with me, so let’s cut off American aid to your country.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Richard

      Much ado about nothing. The bill is merely click bait for Israel haters who are hypocrites for caring about it in the first place, since their only objection is that Israel doesn’t accommodate a national ideology (Palestinian) that has been and always will be much more at odds with liberalism than Zionism is.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bruce Gould

      The Israelis can do whatever they want, I have no vote there. The question for U.S. citizens is whether or not they want to continue sending an annual, no-strings-attached check for 3 billion to a country that keeps 4 million people in a condition of statelessness – that’s for us to decide, and I’d appreciate it if the Israelis would keep out of our affairs.

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Bruce I agree 100%. Makes me ask why we give them aid. Is it to have an attack dog near the oil fields of Iraq? (Doesn’t seem a very well-behaved dog, and I don’t see any leash at all). Is it to get special access to their natural resources? (What natural resources? At least we support Saudi Arabia for oil). Is it because we borrow every dime we spend from the privately-owned for-profit Federal Reserve Bank? (Don’t get in our way or we’ll stop lending to you).

        Reply to Comment
    13. Yvette

      Shhhhhh!!! Don’t mention The Lobby! And remember!: It’s “The Jewish State.” If you beg to differ you’re an anti-Senite. But it’s not “The Jewish Lobby.” If you beg to differ you’re an anti-Semite.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Robert

      Afrer this, Sheldon Adelson will be proclaimed the messiah.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Victor Arajs

      challenge to my identity in Israel:… that is precisely the problem. You as an israeli, benefit from the occupation, while you write about the evils of the occupation. At least baruch Goldstein was honest, you are just deceitful, being progressive except for Palestine

      Reply to Comment
    16. Brian

      Utemia: “I find this whole issue oddly anachronistic in the 21st century. And especially so since Israel claims for itself to be a democratic nation that has the values and institutions that make up a modern 1st world western nation.”

      Utemia, precisely. “Anachronism” is the word that comes to my mind most often in considering the problem with Israel in 2014. It is the most awkwardly anachronistic state by far among those in the club it declares itself a member of: Western democracies. It is anachronistic to the point of incoherence, to the point actually of impossibility (in terms of sustainability).

      Paraphrasing YR, above, it cannot, in the 21st Century, suffice to say that Israel should be defined as a “Jewish country” on the basis that Israel Belongs Only To The Jews, And Everyone Else Simply Lives There.

      Reply to Comment
      • Adaam Dayton

        Gotta love your logic. If everyone is jumping off a cliff, then whoever isn’t jumping off a cliff is behaving in an anachronistic fashion.

        Your comments are a backhanded, colonialist way of saying Israel should do as you white men do in your countries.

        Reply to Comment
    17. “This law is fearful. It is not closing the chapter on Israel’s tense relationship between Jewish identity and the State, as I once hoped possible; it is opening the window to acid rain.”

      Another metaphor might be “digging a deeper hole.”

      As for closing the gap between Jewish identity and the state, when or where in the annals of Jewish scripture and belief is there any approbation of a state such as modern “Israel” (I use quotation marks because the biblical Israel has nothing in common with this colonial settler apartheid state made up of many citizens whose ancestors have more in common with the Volga than the Jordan). You may on the contrary find such a state pointedly condemned in the Torah and related writings, not recommended.

      We should be thankful it is not “closing the gap”… I have too much respect for Jews who don’t want their identity compromised by any such merger.

      Reply to Comment
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