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The destructive potential of Israel's nation-state bill

The newest version of the nation-state bill, which effectively pulls Israel’s apartheid regime out of the closet, could potentially lead to massive violence against its weakest population.

By Marzuq Al-Halabi

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, MK David Bitan, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Knesset plenum session, December 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, MK David Bitan, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Knesset plenum session, December 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The “nation-state bill,” which was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, is no different from the day-to-day political discourse taking place in Israel these over the last years. By revoking Arabic as an official language of the state, and maintaining that “the right to realize self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” the bill enshrines the ideas, desires, ideology, and actions of Israel’s political leaders since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The proposed bill, in the “refined” version put forth by the prime minister, is in the spirit of the most extreme right-wing bills that have been proposed before the committee or in the hallways of the Knesset. Even more moderate proposals (like the one from MK Benny Begin), which tried to save Israeli democracy “with stains” (according to Professor Benjamin Neuberger), were pulled in by the Right, reflecting right-wing ideology more than a Jewish and democratic Israel.

The law, even if it only anchors a de facto political reality, carries with it more than just a few dangers for this already-weak democracy (one which never dared to enshrine equality, a basic principle in every democracy) — it poses a danger to the future of the entire region between the river and the sea.

One can view this law as one that pulls Israel’s apartheid regime out of the closet, after hiding for so long. But there is also a danger in the public atmosphere that the law could create and encourage. The assumption is that such a bill would pass in the Knesset, leading to additional laws in the coming months that will surely use the nation-state law as their ideological foundation.

Israeli soldiers clash with young stone-throwing Palestinians at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 9, 2009. Palestinian leaders warned of more street protests in Jerusalem, where clashes at the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque two weeks ago heated up tensions in the disputed city. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers clash with young stone-throwing Palestinians at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 9, 2009. Palestinian leaders warned of more street protests in Jerusalem, where clashes at the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque two weeks ago heated up tensions in the disputed city. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90)

One can safely assume that one of these future laws will try to establish Israel’s borders, which will inevitably include an Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The law, then, will be applied in all areas under Israeli sovereignty. This legal situation will create an apartheid regime, or “justified crimes” against the Palestinian people, such as population transfer or removal. The Supreme Court, at the point, won’t be able to do a thing about it. This legal situation may also do away with the court’s independence, replacing the current situation in which it can still carry out constitutional review, even if limited, on the the executive and legislative branches of government.

The law also represents a change from the legal framework put forth in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, its Basic Laws, and High Court rulings — especially during the tenure of Justice Aharon Barak, who managed to find some kind of balance between “Jewish” and “democratic.” The new law upends this balance in favor of the Jewish nation, giving a clear advantage to Israeli Jews, while adamantly refusing to recognize the presence of another nation in this land. The significance of doing so is not merely symbolic. The moment the government begins to carry out this law, it will turn into a tool of the regime to justify any sanction or oppressive act — even violent — against its opponents.

This development is frightening in light of the climate in which all this is taking place: the strengthening of the global right as part of the crisis of capitalism and the international community turning its back on the agreements, norms, and understandings that developed in the wake of the Second World War.

This result could potentially lead — like in many other places — to the use of unrestrained violence here. Support for nationalistic fervor and right-wing ideologies could spell disaster in our region. The Israeli feeling of supremacy accompanied by existential dread — based on recent Jewish history — and combined with a messianic worldview, could turn such a volatile situation into a dangerous one for Palestinians everywhere under Israeli sovereignty — and even beyond.

The danger, then, is not changing the legal status of the Arabic language, and not in granting privileges to the Jewish majority, but rather in the way it lends itself to and legitimizes outright apartheid. The nation-state bill could very well make this scenario come to life. No more “occupation,” no more “disputed territories” — but rather full Israeli sovereignty over all of Israel-Palestine. Come hell or high water.

Marzuq Al-Halabi is a jurist, journalist, author. He writes regularly for Al-Hayat. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      Here is the Palestinian constitution.

      http://www.palestinianbasiclaw.org/basic-law/2002-basic-law

      Note Article 1 which states that a Palestinian is an Arab state. Note article 4 which states Islam is the state religion and Sharia law is the basis of legislation. All of this leads to official discrimination against non-Arabs and non-Muslims. We should also note that the official name of Egypt is “The Arab Republic of Egypt” and Syria (or what’s left of it) has the official name “The Syrian Arab Republic”, both of which are ethnocentric names. If you have no problem with these, then you should have no problem with the proposed Israeli law.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        The difference is that the Palestinian state doesn’t exist (yet). If it existed and it had a constitution like that, and it used it to actively discriminate against minorities then I would have a problem with it, but as it stands it’s hard to have a problem with a nonexistent country.

        On the other hand Israel exists, 25% of its population is non-Jewish, it controls the lives of millions of other non-Jews and it gets a hefty yearly check from the American taxpayer.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          I thought all you ‘peace activists’ are worried about human rights. Why don’t you demand the Palestinians change their constitution NOW, and not wait. If they end up setting up an undemocratic, ethnocentric, theocratic state, what would the universalist human rights people have to say then? You all keep telling us how sensitive Palestinians are to human rights, far more than Israel, so why should it even be a problem for you to persuade them?

          Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      You are boring and predictable. You can’t find anything that you can legitimately criticize given that the law is entirely in line with the constitutions of more than a few EU nations and so you move on to your usual garbage of claiming apartheid and waving around phantom menaces of “unrestrained violence”.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “the law is entirely in line with the constitutions of more than a few EU nations”

        Poppycock. Here’s why:

        ‘Most mainstream Zionists would argue that “a Jewish State” is no different than a German state or an Italian state, or any similar nation-state whose identity is not based on the melting pot of an immigrant society (like the America model).
        The citizenship model in those countries is based on blood-relations within a well-defined community; occasionally, they also carry with them some religious symbolism, like a cross or a crescent. Why shouldn’t the Jews – arguably one of the oldest, most persecuted nations on earth – enjoy their own nation-state too?
        But this argument is only half true: modern-day nationalities, especially post-World War II, have an inclusive dimension to them. A person might not be of German origin, but once he assumes German (or Italian or British) citizenship, he or she becomes German (or Italian or British) for all intents and purposes. They enjoy both the same legal rights and symbolic status as every other citizen, no matter how far back in the nation’s history his family lineage goes.
        In other words, the state’s implementation of the term German is broad and inclusive, even if the historic German nationality remains exclusive. A person can be German but he or she can also be Jewish and German or Muslim and German or Turkish and German.
        Jewish identity cannot and does not wish to be inclusive (in my mind, that’s part of the beauty of Judaism – that it never tried to convert the non-believers). A state that sees itself as “a Jewish State” is inherently an exclusive state, because a person cannot become Palestinian-Jewish or Muslim-Jewish.
        Almost 25 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jews. That’s way more than blacks or Latinos in America. If Israel is a Jewish State, that means that every fourth person cannot – ever – assign themselves or be assigned the state’s core identity. He or she will probably be discriminated against both formally and in practice, but more importantly, this person will be deprived of the symbolic meaning of citizenship in the nation-state model.
        The fact that the Palestinians are an indigenous minority only makes things more grotesque. Imagine, for example, if the Basques were to be excluded from Spanish nationality while still remaining residents of Spain, or if Native Americans were not called – or didn’t enjoy the full rights that come with being – America; or if American was to be recognized as “a white state”, but blacks could still be citizens. And so on.
        Does that mean Israel must be an inherently racist, exclusive state? Not at all. That’s why Israeli identity was invented. Unlike “Jewish,’’ Israeli identity could, in theory, be inclusive…’
        https://972mag.com/why-i-oppose-recognizing-israel-as-a-jewish-state/78751/

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          Poppycock. Lovely word.

          Enjoy: http://en.kohelet.org.il/publication/the-legitimacy-of-israels-nation-state-bill-i-comparative-constitutionalism

          Latvia: ‘the Latvian constitution opens by invoking the “unwavering will of the Latvian nation to have its own State and its inalienable right of self-determination in order to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian nation, its language and culture throughout the centuries.” It continues by defining Latvian “identify” as “shaped by Latvian and Liv traditions, Latvian folk wisdom, the Latvian language, universal human and Christian values.”’

          Slovakia: the Slovak constitution, which opens with the words, “We the Slovak nation,” and lays claim to “the natural right of nations to self-determination.” Only then does it note the “members of national minorities and ethnic groups living on the territory of the Slovak Republic,” which are not part of the “We” exercising national self-determination.

          There are more examples in the articles of the constitutions of EU nations containing enshrining official languages, religions, and having the majority ethnic group lay claim to ownership of the state.

          So, again, all this garbage about the nation state bill is hypocritical and a fine example of a double standard on the part of those that simply don’t want Israel to exist and so oppose any and all actions that strengthen its existence.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Hmmm. No, I’m sorry, but none of that refutes the argument Noam Sheizaf makes, and in fact it lends Sheizaf’s argument support. One could substitute “Latvian” and “Slovakian” for “German” and “Italian” in Sheizaf’s essay and change his argument not one bit. It spectacularly misses Sheizaf’s whole point to bring in the Latvian and Slovakian constitutions.

            (And spectacularly misses the irony that these constitutions are written very much with the occupation of these tiny countries by the Soviet behemoth that wanted to do to Latvia and Slovakia what Israel is trying to do to the Palestinians. And the further irony that the Czechs and Slovaks solved their problems by peacefully agreeing to a two state solution and did not see Czechs occupying Slovakia for 50 years. And let’s kick that irony up yet another notch by noting that the Slovak Republic does not now have anything near a 25% Czech population.)

            Moreover, if we focus only on Latvians and Slovakians, Germans and Italians, we avoid the entire further argument Sheizaf makes:

            ‘The fact that the Palestinians are an indigenous minority only makes things more grotesque. Imagine, for example, if the Basques were to be excluded from Spanish nationality while still remaining residents of Spain, or if Native Americans were not called – or didn’t enjoy the full rights that come with being – America; or if American was to be recognized as “a white state”, but blacks could still be citizens. And so on.’

            You really do miss Sheizaf’s fundamental point. Did you even read what he wrote before responding?

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            No Ben, I am sure it is out of ignorance rather than malice that you don’t understand what I wrote. “Latvian” and “Slovak” are ethnic groups. They are the titular majority ethnic groups of their respective countries but both countries have minorities. Ethnic Russians are more than 26% of the population of Latvia. And no, an ethnic Russian can not become an ethnic Latvian. The titular ethnic group’s right to self-determination is enshrined int the constitutions of these countries. Official languages and religions are enshrined in even more constitutions of the European countries, not to mention the crosses that appear in the flags of lets say, several. As for Spain and the Basques, Spain has one national language – Castellano, with other languages having various other “special statuses”. Nor do I see how this law even remotely deprives the Israeli Arabs of their Israeli nationality. Nor do I see how European nations enshrining the titular ethnic group or language or religion in the constitution has an impact on the rights of other citizens of those countries. So that whole line of argument is bunk.

            It is ironic that you think that the constitutions were written in Latvia and Slovakia because the “Soviet behemoth that wanted to do to Latvia and Slovakia what Israel is trying to do to the Palestinians”. The Soviet behemoth was trying to demographically crush the Latvians and Estonians by flooding those countries with Russians and by destroying their culture by undermining their national languages and cultures. That is what the Palestinians, the Arabs and their supporters want to do to Israel. Quite often we hear from them that there is no such thing as Israel or Israelis, that Hebrew is an artificial Slavic language and that the solution is to throw the Jews out of Israel and have them be absorbed around the world ( I read what is written in Mondoweiss sometimes, so I am pretty well aware what passes for conventional wisdom among the ‘pro-Palestinian’ commentariat).

            The point is that when looking at this law its detractors are using a double standard to vilify the law and Israel in general.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Again, absolutely none of this gets around the heart of the matter, which you are studiously ignoring:

            Sheizaf on the heart of the matter: “…But this argument is only half true: modern-day nationalities, especially post-World War II, have an inclusive dimension to them. A person might not be of German origin, but once he assumes German (or Italian or British) citizenship, he or she becomes German (or Italian or British) for all intents and purposes. They enjoy both the same legal rights and symbolic status as every other citizen, no matter how far back in the nation’s history his family lineage goes.
In other words, the state’s implementation of the term German is broad and inclusive, even if the historic German nationality remains exclusive. A person can be German but he or she can also be Jewish and German or Muslim and German or Turkish and German.
Jewish identity cannot and does not wish to be inclusive (in my mind, that’s part of the beauty of Judaism – that it never tried to convert the non-believers). A state that sees itself as “a Jewish State” is inherently an exclusive state, because a person cannot become Palestinian-Jewish or Muslim-Jewish…”

            “Nor do I see how European nations enshrining the titular ethnic group or language or religion in the constitution has an impact on the rights of other citizens of those countries.”

            Precisely, because as Sheizaf explains, what these European nations are doing is distinctly different from what Israel is doing both in letter and in spirit.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Nor do I see how this law even remotely deprives the Israeli Arabs of their Israeli nationality. “

            This opens up the flaws in your reasoning and in your assumptive world. It is in fact the right wing which explicitly denies to the Palestinians and to themselves the unifying communal concept and identity of Israeliness that both Arabs and Jews would work towards as the basis of a national identity. It is the right wing that insists Jewishness be the exclusive basis of self determination, national identity, and first class status. (And Netanyahu just reiterated in case anyone forgot that self-determination in Israel is, as he sees it, open to nobody but Jews.) They are quite open and frank about this. “Israeliness,” as inclusive, ethnicity and religion transcending/bridging concept, as the inclusive cultural group or people that the state chooses to adopt and endorse, is fiercely opposed by the right wing.

            As Sheizaf says: “Does that mean Israel must be an inherently racist, exclusive state? Not at all. That’s why Israeli identity was invented. Unlike “Jewish,’’ Israeli identity could, in theory, be inclusive. A person can be a Palestinian-Israeli or a Muslim-Israeli.”

            And as Tomer Persico says, ‘According to Feiglin’s model, maintaining hold of territories is not a question of security but a question of identity. A truly Jewish identity can be realized only through the holding of any occupied territories in the Land of Israel. Those, on the other hand, who wish to return such territories are trying to sabotage Jewish identity and replace it with “a new Israeli identity.”’

            So, if you are embracing Israeliness, Firentis, as you suggest you are, then come on over to the left, come on over to conceptual and political coherence. We welcome you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “The Soviet behemoth was trying to demographically crush the Latvians and Estonians by flooding those countries with Russians and by destroying their culture by undermining their national languages and cultures. That is what the Palestinians, the Arabs and their supporters want to do to Israel.”

            In fact, whatever you think the Palestinians WANT to do to Israel, this paragraph describes what Israel is ACTUALLY doing to the Palestinians. You have replaced that actual threat with a fear-mongerer-promoted-bugaboo about the Palestinians overwhelming you when the exact opposite is occurring before our eyes in a situation in which, while the power balance is enormously lopsided in Israel’s favor, it pretends to quake in fear of being overrun by the Palestinian mouse, the Palestinian un-behemoth.

            We have had someone here, JeffB, who, behind the anodyne euphemisms he habitually deploys is as Feiglinist as are either you or I. G. Halevy or Lewis from Afula, tell us that the answers lie in mass conversion of Arabs to Jews of some kind or another by slow forms of coercion, about slowly coercive ‘hollowing out’ of non-Jews’ culture and language (Palestinians should forget their Arabic but for Jews it’s a nifty “pure plus” to learn it as a hobby!); and about physical and cultural genocide or at the very least mass transfer if they fail to cooperate–all of it to avoid sharing land, to justify and maintain land theft, creeping annexation. And as of the end of 2015 there were an estimated 588,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. So who, exactly, is flooding and undermining whom? Eh? And it is not just this one person, several others on the right here are pushing Feiglin’s quasi-fascist form of “popular democracy,” whether they know it or not or admit it. Some are totally unabashed and up front about it, and some cloak it in euphemisms and rationalizations and false comparisons—as in your case. But this, what Tomer Persico delineates, is the core issue underlying all these arguments between left and right in these pages.

            And not a single one of you on the right has been willing to stand up and engage on what Noam Sheizaf and Tomer Persico are saying.

            Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            According to several Arab leaders, the “Palestinian” people does not exist. The leaders of the British mandate told the same.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Not a single one of you!

            Reply to Comment
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