The ill-conceived nation-state bill, which the Knesset was expected to vote on this week, has drawn criticism from Israel’s left and right, from Jewish organizational leaders in the United States and from others who want to see a flourishing Israel-Diaspora relationship. That’s just about everybody but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government.
The point of the bill, according to its backers, is to give constitutional status to Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. The bill was proposed as a basic law — roughly the equivalent of a constitutional provision in a country without a written constitution — and as such would be difficult to overturn once enacted. “The moment we define that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people only, we establish for the courts that this is a constitutional value,” Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, told Israel’s Army Radio.
What the law actually does is state the obvious, while at the same time managing to denigrate Israel’s Arab citizens and their culture, and declaring that Israel will make decisions of concern to Diaspora Jewry without consulting them.
Writing in Haaretz, former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens — no left-wing liberal — called the legislation “a needless law and damaging to Israel. That Israel is a Jewish state is too obvious to need repeating in the form of a law.”
At press time, the law contained a clause declaring Hebrew Israel’s official language, and demoting Arabic from an official language to a second-class one. More than 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arabs, making this a senseless slap at them. Besides, we aren’t aware that the Hebrew language is under siege, such that the government needs to swat Arabic down in order to assure Hebrew’s hegemony.
Another clause, since changed, was denounced by President Reuven Rivlin and Israel’s attorney general. It would have allowed the state to “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community.” Critics denounced the clause as racist because it seemed to enshrine in law the segregation of Arabs from Jewish communities.
Netanyahu also tweaked some language to win support of the haredi-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, which has helped stymie attempts to bring pluralistic prayer to the Western Wall area. The word change in a clause about strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora was minimal, but UTJ requested it “because they did not want the state to help Diaspora Jews advance religious pluralism in Israel in general and at the Western Wall in particular,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
This is a bill written to please the ultranationalists and haredi-Orthodox parties who are pushing for a Jewish state that’s less democratic, less concerned with minorities, less interested in the outside world and more convinced that “the world is against us.”
This useless bill will not make Israel more Jewish, but it has already exacerbated a growing Israel-Diaspora divide. JN