Bibi's 'Nation-state' Law: The Damage Has Already Been Done - to Israel

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Netanyahu in the Knesset, October 29, 2014Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

At this point, it makes no difference if Benjamin Netanyahu's "Jewish nation-state bill" is passed this week, or put off for a week, or never passes at all. The damage has already been done.

And all of the damage has been done to Israel.

Listen to the words of Mahmoud Seif, uncle of sergeant-major Zidan Nahad Seif, the Druze Arab Israeli policeman slain last Tuesday as he fought to stop the terrorist murder of Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue.

Mahmoud Seif, who once hosted a young Likud MK named Benjamin Netanyahu in his Galilee home, spoke of the message the government's proposed law was sending to Israel's Arab minority, one out of every five citizens of Israel:

"The 'nation-state law,' is saying, in other words: 'Only the Jews should remain here.'

"What about the Druze? What about the many, many Arabs who are loyal to the country?," he asked on Army Radio this week.

"What are they going to do now? This is a law for Jews only."

Seif noted with gratitude the many Israeli Jews, including President Reuven Rivlin and prominent rabbis, who visited his family's mourning tent last week, embracing them, expressing warm condolences for the loss of Zidan, who left a wife and a four-month-old daughter.

"So many came to comfort us last week, and to exalt Zidan for saving lives, and today [the government] passes a law like this. How can this be? Why is this at all necessary?"

The damage is by no means confined to Israel.

Not only do Netanyahu and his hardline ministers know that the law is entirely needless, commentator Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth Monday. They also know "that its only contribution will be to the de-legitimization campaign against Israel. There are many people of ill-will who seek out any excuse to present Israel as racist, jingoist, fascist. They argue that a combination of 'Jewish' and 'democratic' is impossible.

"And now here comes the prime minister of Israel - the man who knows that this law is both harmful and superfluous - and grants the people who hate Israel exactly what they've been looking for."

It's true. He knows. The prime minister knows exactly what he's risking here. His own hand-picked, do-his-bidding attorney general told him as much. On Friday, Yehuda Weinstein warned Netanyahu's Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit in writing that aspects of the bill would "lead to deterioration of the democratic characteristic of the state.”

Netanyahu filed the letter, and steamed straight ahead.

On Sunday, the prime minister surprised the cabinet by submitting the most extreme version of the bill – the one that demotes Arabic as an official language, that deletes "equality" as a goal of the Jewish state, that grants the right of way to "Jewish" aspects of policy and secondary status to democratic principles, that opens the door to deporting non-Jews, in particular African asylum seekers, and to depriving Arabs of rights and privileges, and to neutering the Supreme Court as the last vestige of a check and balance to a clown car of a government, a government determined to see how far you can get if all you have is a gas pedal and a steering wheel which only turns to the right.

In effect, the law would turn all of Israel into the West Bank.

Netanyahu knows that it doesn't matter anymore if he tones the bill down, or stuffs it into the rubbish drawer with the Weinstein memorandum. He's on record as endorsing the most dangerous bill ever passed by an Israeli cabinet. The damage is done.

These days, though, there is, in fact, something eating him. You can see in his eyes, the darting, the squinting, that he's scared of something. But what is it?

It's not the usual stuff. He refuses to let failure rattle him. Not even his own.

It doesn't bother him that his job was to carry out the wishes of Israel's Declaration of Independence, to help make Israel a safe place of refuge for Jews in danger. He's fine with the fact that his bluster and sneering trash talk, his spite for allies, his preference for conflict over compromise, have left his nation weakened, vulnerable, and demoralized.

It doesn't faze him that his years in office have made a mockery of the Declaration, which directs him to " foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants," "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex" and "guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

What is it then? What's he scared of?

"He's terrified of not being prime minister," my wife said this morning.

As usual, my wife is right.

Maybe it's beginning to dawn on him how Israelis have begun to take a close look at this runaway clown car called the Netanyahu government. How some days, you don't know whether to laugh or to vomit.

Mahmoud Seif said this week that "There are many Jews who don't want this law either."

"It's a known fact that they have returned to their land," he said, in a reference to Israel's Jews. "But it's important also to respect those who were here, to live with them in democracy, in understanding, as good neighbors. We all want to live out our lives without fighting, without wars."

Benjamin Netanyahu's a smart guy. He's suddenly terrified of losing his job.

Maybe he knows something we don't. 

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