“Thank you, my Israeli brothers and sisters.” With these words, Druze protest leader Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad began his speech in Rabin Square on Saturday night, before an emotional crowd of tens of thousands who had come to identify with his community.
Echoing throughout the remarks of all the speakers and providing the only possible explanation for what was common to everyone in the square was the word “Israeli.” In this sense, the nation-state law will achieve the exact opposite of what was intended: Instead of enshrining Jewish nationhood in law, it has laid the groundwork for the just demand to change it into Israeli nationhood. Anyone who doesn’t believe that wasn’t on hand at the demonstration.
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From the point of view of the right wing, the nation-state law is aimed at dispelling the fear that Jews will become a minority in their own country, that Israel will change unrecognizably and stop being the state in which they can and would want to reside – and worse, that it will stop being a haven for the Jewish people in case of a future Holocaust. Moreover, the law is intended to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. The right wing wants the public to believe that the nation-state law is the final word.
Because it’s hard to believe that the right wing is so innocent as to think that a future scenario of historic proportions can be prevented by the nation-state law, the left in its criticism has jumped a few steps forward and sees the legislation as a constitutional cornerstone for an apartheid regime. This is the only kind of regime that will be able, at least for the time being – by means of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and a powerful police force – to maintain Jewish control in a situation where the country loses its Jewish majority.
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Thus, from the perspective of the left, the nation-state law is not the last word, it’s the first word.
And so the debate between right and left is not over the principle of equality, but rather over Israel’s identity. The right wing is prepared to sacrifice equality on the altar of preserving Israel’s identity as it is today, whereas opponents of the law believe that in sacrificing equality, Israel is losing its identity.
This is precisely the way Benjamin Netanyahu wants people: in a permanent state of panic. The nation-state law is another of the traps the prime minister is so expert at setting. While playing on fears of anti-Semitism and holocaust, and by means of unbridled incitement against the Arabs, Netanyahu has trapped the Israeli public in a seemingly insoluble, existential paradox – as if we must choose between two types of suicide.
We must not forget that this is a diversionary tactic. The main reason Israeli society is crumbling into tribes is the occupation and the fact this country is controlling another people. The only way to save Israel from a domestic collapse is by making peace with the Palestinians, returning the territories and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In turn, all the internal tensions in Israeli society – including those between Arabs and Jews – would return to normal proportions and it would be possible to find a political solution for them, from the moment the monster of the occupation is defeated.
After the occupation is over, Israel will be able to formulate a constitution with a broad consensus, without it being at the expense of one community or another, or one against the other.
Ostensibly, the new legislation was to have circumvented the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for negotiations. So the Palestinians insist on merely recognizing the State of Israel, do they? We’ll outsmart them: We’ll enact a law that states that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and that way recognition of Israel will entail recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
On the way, of course, we have forgotten about the Palestinians and the negotiations. Have we heard anyone on the right claiming that the nation-state law could be harnessed to benefit a diplomatic move with the Palestinians? Has Netanyahu come out with some emotional declaration to the world, and explained that the main demand of the Palestinians is now off the table as one of the preconditions, and that the matter is now resolved? Absolutely not.
Instead, they have given the Israeli public the poisoned apple they wanted to hand to the Palestinians. The nation-state law denies Israeliness and thus excludes Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, while at the same time opens a Pandora’s box containing the ancient question of who is a Jew. It has of all things trained a spotlight on all the internal tensions in Israeli society, even those that were fairly latent, such as the Druze issue. The fact that no one predicted the crisis with that community, which broke out spontaneously and with unbelievable strength – that is testimony to what can only be described as a lack of civic awareness.
The nation-state law has unwittingly unleashed powerful, unconscious political dynamics. Anyone who thinks these can be appropriated or bought is denigrating the public.
Let’s see who the political magician is now.