On July 22, the parliament in Budapest met to vote on Law Number 25 which established the entry requirements to universities in Hungary. The bill stated that for higher learning only those of "unblemished ethical standard, who have demonstrated loyalty to the Hungarian nation," would be let in, and that the university student body must reflect the nations and ethnic groups in the country in accordance to their relative numbers in the overall population.
On the face of it, the bill was meant to ensure fair and equitable representation but everyone realized its real purpose: to dwindle the number of Jews among the student body. Only six percent of the Hungarian population was Jewish at the time, but they made up as much as 30 percent of the student body. When the bill was brought to a vote, most of the parliamentarians from the centrist parties were absent from the plenum. The bill passed with the votes of the extreme right wing and entered history as the Numerus Clausus Law, the first institutional expression of anti-Semitism in Europe during the interwar years.
Among the thousands of Jewish students who abandoned Hungary were John von Neumann and Edward Teller, who went on to develop game theory and the hydrogen bomb. Their skills and those of their colleagues did not interest Hungarian nationalists. They wanted to throw the Jews out, even at the cost of a brain drain. Politicians in Budapest were only concerned about international pressure, which indeed eased the restrictions a few years later. But the damage had already been done: The Jewish geniuses were gone, and Hungary continued its downfall into fascism.
The proposed Affirmative Action bill, which passed last week through the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and is on its way to a preliminary reading, is marching along the same path. The bill proposed by MKs Hamad Amar, David Rotem and Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu seeks to give preference for civil service jobs to those who served in the IDF. On the face of it, justice is being done in favor of "those who lay in ambush and risked their lives," to quote Amar, preferring them over those who evaded the draft and were able to go to university at age 18.
But like in Hungary of 1920, so too in Israel of 2011, the spirit of the law is more important than the language, and everyone is clear on its purpose: to get rid of the Haredim and the Arabs. The state is the one that exempted them from mandatory military service and now wants to punish them for alleged "evasion."
MK Rotem, who chairs the Knesset Law Committee, explained his position during discussions: "I hear constantly talk about the right to equality. I think that the military cemeteries should be closed, there is no equality there. They do not bury Arabs there."
To the Shas representative MK Nissim Zeev, who opposed the bill, Rotem said: "I do not care about your world."
Rotem responded rudely to the representatives of ministries who expressed reservations at the bill, saying it was redundant and possibly also illegal. "At noon today you will see how legal it is," Rotem told attorney Tziona Koenig-Yair, Commissioner for Equal Opportunities at the Workplace. "What is your [lawyer's] license number?"
"19893," she said.
Rotem then went on to deal with the Justice Ministry's representative, attorney Dan Oren: "And what is your license number?"
What is the relevance, wondered Oren, and insisted: "It is our function and we have expertise in these matters."
Koenig-Yair gave in: "I apologize to the chairman if there was something offensive in my statements."
The government of Benjamin Netanyau, which has sought to oppress the Arab community since it was established, was, of course, in favor of the "Affirmative Action Bill." Not all committee MKs fell in line: Benny Begin voted against the bill in the preliminary reading, Isaac Herzog petitioned against it, but Rotem said that "he can no longer file a petition."
During the vote in the Law Committee, it was an opposition MK, Otniel Schneller (Kadima ), who was most ardently in favor: "From a moral point of view, I consider this a most important law," he said. Schneller joined the two representatives of Yisrael Beiteinu, and against the two Haredi MKs, passed the bill to the next stage.
The nationalists in Israel, like their predecessors in Hungary during the past century, do not care about the loss of talent or exacerbation of domestic tensions. They are interested in harming minorities and pushing them out. And like their predecessors in the parliament in Budapest, the representatives of the center in our Knesset have opted to sit in the cafeteria instead of fighting racist bills.