I wrote an article that was distributed on the social media in which I touched on the recently approved Nation-State Law that brought with it some controversy in Israel. I was asked to elucidate the details of this new law and the nuances that have caused discussion and some protest.
Much emotional rhetoric has been heard over the recently approved National State Law in Israel. Protests have accompanied hysteria that las left many open-minded people confused about what actually happened in Israel.
Saeb Erekat, the PLO Secretary General, announced that the Palestinian Authority was considering filing a complaint with the United Nations General Assembly to rescind Israel’s membership. Why not? It seems that the PA runs to the Un every week in an effort to dislodge Israel from UN forums.
He and his boss, Mahmoud Abbas want to world to know that the law is a reconfirmation of Israel as an apartheid state undermining any chance of a two-state solution.
The anti-Israel agitators ignore the Palestinian Authority’s complete and unrepentant rejection of any Jewish presence in a future Palestinian state. According to their twisted sense of logic, this is neither racist, nor an obstacle to peace. Nor, apparently, is it anti-Semitic or hypocritical to constantly refer to Israel as “the Jews,” while protesting Israel’s right to define itself as a Jewish state. Go figure out that conundrum!
Arab members of the Knesset took the PA cue by referring to the new law as “apartheid.”
Turkish dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went further. This shining example of democracy and peace said that Israel is an heir to Nazi Germany. The American Jewish leadership echoed the New York Times line that the passing of this law is evidence that Israel is on the verge of rejecting democracy.
They are upset that the law refers to Jewish settlement as “a national value,” as if that was a sin against humanity. They conveniently forget that Israel was the Jewish state for 70 years before this bill was passed. Even before that, in 1920, the League of Nations decreed in their Mandate for Palestine that the British mandatory government must encourage “close settlement by Jews on the land.” That is how Petah Tikva, Rishon le Zion, Rosh Pina, and later Netanya, Hadera, Modiin, Beer Sheba, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ariel, Maale Adumim and so many other towns and cities were created, by close Jewish settlement on the land. This was not racist, nor apartheid. It was a fulfillment of legitimately sanctioned authority and a historic right to Jewish self-determination in our ancient land.
They also forget that the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a partition of Palestine into two states – an “Arab state” and a “Jewish State.”
According to many, both sides got precisely that. The Arabs got Jordan and the Jews got Israel. The battles and the violence that have occurred since the UN Partition vote were never over the Jews claiming Jordan, but of the Arabs claiming Israel as Palestine. Nothing has happened to bring Israel’s enemies round to accept the right of Jewish self-determination and governance in their ancient land according to historical precedents and international legitimacy.
The early Zionists thought that by establishing Jewish settlements on land legally purchased and developed by back-breaking labour, they would create an undisputed sovereignty of the land of Israel in the historical homeland of the Jewish people that would protect the status of Jewish state from malevolent adversaries wishing to destroy it. They were wrong. Dark forces bent on removing the Jewish presence would intensify their campaign to deny its right to exist. That is why the approval of the Nation-State Law was necessary. It was also an act of defiance.
It did not, however, stop the attacks against Israel. It intensified them. But the passing of the law is another example of the stick-necked Zionists and the Israeli “screw you” attitude.
Was it necessary to pass the Nation-State Law at all? Mosher Arens, the elder statesman of the Likud Party, is no radical left-winger or secularist. As Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Arens was the man who gave a young Benjamin Netanyahu his first leg up the political and diplomatic ladder by making him his deputy. Later, Arens made Netanyahu Israel’s ambassador to the UN. Yet, Arens criticized the need for the bill. First, in its embryonic stage by questioning the need to legitimize Israel’s Jewishness. In 2014, he wrote that Israel is the Jewish state because the vast majority of its inhabitants are Jews, its main spoken language is Hebrew, the national anthem is ‘HaTikvah,’ whose words are stirringly Jewish and Zionistic;
“As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned towards the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the two-thousand-year old hope – will not be lost,
To be a free people in our Land,
The Land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
The national flag contains the Star of David, it’s army’s name embraces the word “Israel,” and it is Jewish because of its Law of Return. “Nothing else was needed until now, and nothing else is needed now,” he wrote then.
And after the law was passed in the Knesset, Arens wrote in a piece, published in the left-wing Ha’Aretz newspaper, that said it would have been wiser to mobilize broad support for the bill, by taking the sensitivities of the Druze and Christian communities into account, rather than rush through a cobbled version to appease the ultra-Orthodox parties in a deal that would allow the Haredi population to swerve national service in the IDF. It was, he considered, the worst of compromises that hurt Israeli Arabs, including the Druze “who served Israel loyally, knowing it is a Jewish state.”
Arens was joined by another Likud veteran, Dan Meridor, who served under Menachem Begin, Yizchak Shamir, and in two Netanyahu cabinets, who said the bill was “unnecessary, harmful, and mainly embarrassing.”
The verbal charges, however, of the left wing Zionist Union Knesset members in the matter of the Nation State Law were hypocritical and smacked of cynical politics. Back in 2014, the ZU leader, Shelly Yacimovich MK, wrote to the drafter of the bill, Av Dichter from the then Kadema Party, that she could see nothing objectionable in the bill, emphasizing that she could see no purpose in the new law given that it repeated what had already passed into law in previous Basic Law bills. Yet, a week before the new law was approved, the same Yacimovich did an about turn calling the law as “racist” and “xenophobic” when the recently approved law was a watered down version than the one presented to her four years earlier! Again, go figure.
Another Zionist Union leader, Tzipi Livni, was another one who condemned a law she once supported.
How can they belong to a Zionist Union party when they have a problem with the basic principle and national value of the historic and essential Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel? If it wasn’t, Israel would never have been established as the national homeland of the Jewish people in the first place. Perhaps it’s time for Yacimovich, Livni, and others to change the name of their party, because they are rewriting Zionism into something it isn’t.
It seems that the new Nation-State Law is troubling to the American Jewish leadership, particularly that part of the leadership on the American left. They seem sensitive about the Jewish character of Israel. They seem to think that the terms of the law are “a dangerous check on Israel’s democratic principles.” No, they are not.
Let’s be honest here. Nothing in this bill changes the status of Israel, it’s majority, nor does it affect that status of its minority citizens. Nor is there anything different in this new Basic Law to the principles that have been established since Israel’s Declaration of Independence and legalized in previous Basic Laws. In short, the Nation-State Law changes nothing.
What has changed, however, has been the drift of progressive (some would say “regressive”) American Jews way from traditional Judaism and, in the growing radical left of the Democratic Party, a move from Zionism to post-Zionism and, more recently into outright anti-Zionism. All this happened way before the passing of the Nation-State Law, and many researchers connect the dots between the move away from traditional Judaism and Israel into a Socialist secular religion of Tikun Olam and an anti-Israelism.
Israel is under attack both at home and abroad and the Nation-State Law is an important bastion in defining the ancient and modern rights of the Jewish people to define their self-determination in their own land. A part of that is protecting Israel’s Jewish character. This is defined in the law by naming the Land of Israel as “the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the State of Israel was established.” The national flag is the blue-and-white Star of David, the national symbol is the ancient seven-branched Menorah, which stood in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, with the additional olive branches on either side, and Hatikvah as our official national anthem. A unified Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and the law also declares that “the state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the ingathering of the exiles” with its echo from the Jewish Bible. The official language of Israel is Hebrew, though Arabic is granted a “special status.”
The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel explicitly confirmed the establishment of a Jewish state for the People of Israel in the Land of Israel, the openness of the state to Jewish immigration, the complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens of all religions, origins and genders, the freedom of religion. This document also calls on Israeli Arabs to take part in building the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and appropriate representation in state institutions.
The Arab Knesset members scream that this is a form of racism. Where have they been for a hundred years? They have been promoting the agenda of a Palestine “from the river to the sea,” that’s where they have been. They are upset that Israel grants the Arabic language a special status and not an official Language. There are more Arabic-speaking citizens in France than in Israel. This is not unusual given France’s intimate history in Arab lands. But, France does not grant their Arabic citizen’s language any special status.
There is something more troubling about the behavior and intent of several Arab Members of the Knesset. Rather than work to integrate their Arab constituents into Israeli society and improve their social-economic standards they are busy fomenting friction with the fiction of being Palestinian Arabs in support of the wider Palestinian movement. This begs the question. Are they Palestinians or Israeli Arabs? We have yet to get an unequivocal answer from them. As for the Palestinian “movement,” rather than promote the ingathering of a people into their own state, they foster and foment the notion of refugee-hood to remain in place until millions of Palestinians can be “returned” to their homes in “occupied Palestine” meaning the land “occupied” by Israel.
Some complain that the words “equal” and “democratic” do not appear in the language of the new law, but this is superfluous because these values are enshrined in previously approved Basic Laws and do not require further endorsement in the Nation-State Law. Indeed, the 1948 Declaration of Independence ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”
It has to be added that with equal rights comes equal obligations. The Druze community are concerned about the implications of the Nation-State bill. Israeli Druze are respected within Israel for their courageous service and sacrifice in the IDF. Without doubt they are brave fighters serving in some of our frontline units. I have told my Druze friends that I consider them more dedicated Israelis than many Jews who have never undertaken any form of national service. This includes the Haredi community in Israel. I have more respect for our Druze and Aramean brethren than I do for those who live in their shtetl, expect to receive handouts, paid by taxpayers, but who do little to nothing to serve the country, in hospitals and social welfare services if not in the army. The same has to be said of much of Israel’s Arab community who do not serve in the army and also boycott any form of compulsory national service. With the demand for equal rights comes equal responsibility and national service.
What was striking were two protest rallies that took place a week apart in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the bill. We witnessed the vast difference between the political leadership of the Arad and Druze communities and their supporters. The Druze demonstration was dignified, restrained, making the point that they are a loyal community within Israel that serve and sacrifice themselves for the country but that they had grievances with parts of the new law.
The following week, the Arab political leadership called a protest demonstration in which Palestinian flags vastly outnumbered the very few Israeli flags in the square, and chants of “With blood and fire we will redeem Palestine” echoed off the municipal building and platform where Yizchak Rabin made his final speech before being killed by an assassin’s bullet.
As one astute person put it at the sight of Israelis joining Palestinian flag wavers chanting for an end to Israel, “Rabin must be turning in his grave.”
It was clear that there are those who live here but see themselves as Palestinians impatient for their liberation from the "Jewish occupation" of their land. They were joined by Jews representing the Israeli left who had kept their distance from the previous week’s Druze event to ally themselves with the Palestinian flag wavers.
As Moshe Arens pointed out in his Ha’Aretz article of August 19, “Their presence spoke louder than words. They are what Vladimir Lenin called in his day ‘the useful idiots.’”
This prompted Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to declare,
“Yesterday we saw PLO flags in the heart of Tel Aviv. Many of the demonstrators want to abrogate the Law of Return, cancel the national anthem, fold up our flag and cancel Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. It is for precisely this that we passed the nation-state law. We are proud of our state, our flag and our national anthem. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. The individual rights of its citizens are anchored very well in the basic laws and other laws. Now it is clearer than ever that the nation-state law is also necessary… to ensure the future of the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people.”
Israel’s Prime Minister promised to take Druze concerns into serious consideration by inserting their importance in Israeli society into an amendment to an existing basic law act.
Left-wing peace activists have, for decades, called for an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria as the only way that Israel can maintain itself as a legitimate Jewish and democratic state. Only by withdrawing Jews from Judea and Samaria, they claim, into internationally sanctioned borders can we preserve Israel’s Jewishness. So important is this to them that they are willing to drag over 200,000 Jews from their homes and surrender Jewish historic and religious sites to the Palestinian cause. And yet, they are the ones now calling the Nation-State Law “racist, “discriminatory against our Arab minority,” “radical nationalism,” and other baseless names.
To paraphrase David Weinberg in his Jerusalem Post column “Hypocrisy and Hysteria,” they profess loyalty to Israel as the Jewish nation-state by asserting political pressure for the compulsory evacuation of Jews living in our heartland, but they balk at supporting the very bill that defines the character and symbolism of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This is another conundrum for you to figure out.
This is, as Bibi claims, the reason why the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, is so essential. With the cynicism, the hypocrisy, the panic, and the hysteria, it is vital to remind ourselves that nothing has changed with the passage of this new bill except to confirm the Jewish character of the Jewish State into law.
Israel is a vibrant democracy that protects the rights of its minorities. It always has and always will. But it was, and will remain, the national home of the Jewish people.
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
He is the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS, and Anti-Semitism.’