Analysis

Israel’s Nation-state Bill Betrays Insecurity About Its Right to the Land

The more one adds sources for a legal right, the less a law deriving from this right will be sturdy. But the bill’s framers are using religion to justify discrimination against non-Jews

Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday night against the passage of the nation-state bill.
Meged Gozani

Habayit Hayehudi’s leaders have discovered that their nationalist partners in the governing coalition are devoid of any ideology. So it’s not hard to play them and turn the nation-state bill into a Habayit Hayehudi manifesto to make their supporters happy, and also, to prove once again that they, and only they, are the true Jews.

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The thought that a Basic Law must reflect a deep and wide social consensus is light years from the minds of Habayit Hayehudi and Likud’s leaders, who have no understanding of constitutionality. That’s what it means to add “religious” to the Jewish people's right to have Israel as their  nation-state. Hitherto, the wording was “natural, cultural and historical.”

In adding the word “religious,” the framers of this bill want to improve what they believe is the defective wording of the Declaration of Independence, which sufficed with “and by virtue of our natural and historic right.”

The framers might not know that not every addition is beneficial; sometimes it’s the other way around. The more one adds sources for a legal right, the more the proposed Basic Law will show the weakness of that right and our lack of confidence in it.

It’s also interesting to see what the framers are having trouble with. In the original bill the word “natural” did not appear; it was added later due to criticism, and in the current wording there is no mention of a phrase from the Declaration of Independence: “on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly.” That is, missing is the element of recognition by international law of the right to self-determination.

It’s clear why this is so. The framers know that according to these universalist sources, the Jewish people is not an only child in the Land of Israel, and the right to self-determination in the Land of Israel wasn’t given only to the Jewish people.

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No less important than what the bill proposes to establish is what it proposes to rule out – the possibility of dividing the land and the right to self-determination of the Palestinians, or of the possibility to establish a Palestinian state. Characterizing the legal right as religious underscores this significance of the proposed Basic Law, because the “religious right” is to the entire Land of Israel. Significantly, it does not stop at the Jordan River.

It should be obvious that a religious right can only have meaning to religious people, so this characteristic has no place in a Basic Law that speaks in the name of all Israelis, including those not religious and those not Jewish, whom the bill dismisses from the state.

Thousands of Israelis protesting against the passage of the nation-state bill.
Meged Gozani

And so the argument will be heard that citing the religious nature of the right reflects the state’s religious character. Thus, in the blink of an eye, the state is painted in religious colors.

This characteristic of the state will be a basis for relying on religion to justify exclusion, oppression and discrimination against various groups and increased religiosity in education and public spaces – and with time, in the private space as well. Israel’s wars will also become religious wars and the legacy of Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, who in a letter to junior officers during the 2014 Gaza war called on God to help Israel defeat a “blasphemous” enemy.

Orthodox Jews, the optimal realization of the state’s identity, will be considered first-rate Jews whose right to various privileges, already recognized today, will grow. This will seem strange to the world’s advanced nations and reduce the legitimacy of and sympathy for Israel. But who are we to complain? After all, the more we forgo progress, the better we fit in with the nationalist, anti-liberal countries.

This is also a chance for a small amendment to Jewish history. Zionism is becoming less a revolution against religion and more an alternative under which believers’ prayers are enough.

Nor do the framers hesitate to improve on the divine promise to the Jewish people to inherit the land. This promise was conditioned on the people following God’s commandments. Few fulfilled this condition as far it pertains to humankind’s obligations to God, but what’s to stop the Knesset from lifting that condition?

Unbridled extremism strengthens extremism on the other side. As if we didn’t have enough trouble with conflicting national demands to the land, such a law would strengthen the Islamist idea of the Arabs’ religious right to the land. In the name of the love of Israel, which the framers purport to espouse, is it right to promote a religious war?

The opposition to Netanyahu’s government is shamefully failing in its duty. The nation-state bill gives it a golden opportunity to re-establish itself. The opposition must rise to the challenge and make clear that such a law would break all the rules of the game.