Israel: A battle over identity and democracy
Israel is a Jewish state, said Giulio Meotti in Arutz Sheva. It’s an irrefutable fact, yet one that has never been codified into Israeli law. That’s why last week, the Knesset voted 62-55 to approve a new Basic Law—a law with constitutional force that can be changed only by a majority in the legislature—that officially defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. The law, championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, states that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It adds that a “united Jerusalem” is the capital of Israel, that Hebrew is the country’s official language, and that the state should “encourage and promote” Jewish settlement. This law is necessary because Palestinians still don’t recognize our right to a homeland, and Israeli Arabs are growing in strength. Without a nationality law, the law of return that grants Jews throughout the world the right to immigrate here could be overthrown as discriminatory. Our flag with the Star of David could be challenged as racist, as could the menorah symbol. “This law protects all these.”
The problem isn’t what the national law says but what it omits, said Susan Hattis Rolef in The Jerusalem Post. Specifically, Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population and “whose rights—especially the right to equality—are totally ignored.” This law downgrades the Arabic language from an official national language to one with a “special status.” Worse, its fuzzy conflation of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel could legalize the expansion of settlements throughout Palestinian territories. No wonder that when the vote was tallied, Arab members of the Knesset ripped up their copies of the law in protest. Israeli Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh said Israel had “passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”
The entire point of the law is racist, said Mordechai Kremnitzer in Haaretz. The state doesn’t need a constitutional provision to settle Jews—it’s been doing that. “It only needs it in order to discriminate against non-Jews and segregate them.” What’s next? Apartment-for-rent ads that specify Jews only? Jobs for Jews only? This bigoted law will aggravate Israeli Arabs’ alienation from the state. But Netanyahu is happy to sow “separatism and factionalism between Jews and Arabs” to cement the support of hard-liners in his base and the ultra-Orthodox parties in his ruling coalition. We have strayed from the values in our noble Declaration of Independence, said Yedidia Stern in Yedioth Ahronoth. It calls Israel the national home of the Jewish people, but also pledges “full equality” for all citizens, regardless of religion, race, or gender. Remember, the Torah commands one law—“both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” In insisting on our Jewishness, are we rejecting the values of Judaism?