One New Clause

Racist rabbis' reliance on state laws can be seen as stemming from the same mythology in which most secular people also believe: the State of Israel is the 'renewal of the kingdom'.

When Meir Kahane was elected to the 11th Knesset in 1984, a broad parliamentary front opened up against him. But his real victory became apparent when in 1985, in an effort to get rid of his party before the coming election, the legislature rallied around an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset: a new clause striking down individuals or tickets from running in an election if they deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Thus was the demon banished by using a little of his own doctrine. The new clause became a complicated part of the unfinished constitution. No reasonable constitutional means had previously been found to discriminate against Arab citizens. For many years they had been discriminated against solely by means of the tangled system of laws and regulations in every aspect of life, including ownership of land and apartments. From that perspective, the dozens of rabbis behind the racist manifesto calling on Jews not to sell or rent apartments to non-Jews are legitimizing - not inventing - the illegitimate.

But since the insertion of the new clause, the struggle against the Judaization of the state - that is, against racism - has become an internal Jewish matter. It defines Arab citizens, even by the most humanistic among us, as foreigners. Frequently the relevant biblical verse from Numbers is quoted for their benefit: "One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you" (15:16 ). Through the new clause, a matter of Jewish law has inserted itself into secular discourse.

As far back as 1988, when Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar rejected the Kahane ticket's petition against its exclusion from the Knesset election, he gave a number of important liberal reasons regarding the protection of democracy - and then added footnotes about Jewish law, which to his mind proved how humanistic Jewish law is. That was a foreshadowing of what is now happening: masses of secular people longing for rabbis like Yosef Shalom Elyashiv to declare that the manifesto on selling or renting to non-Jews has no basis in Jewish law.

In short, we have been forced to imbue our citizenship with religious content because, despite secular Israelis' love for the term "Jewish and democratic," the Jewish definition of Israel is unlike the French definition of France. That's because within Israeli law, there is no non-religious content to the word "Jewish." Moreover, until Israel was established, Judaism had never been a state religion (the ultra-Orthodox non-Zionists, like Elyashiv and Rabbi Aaron Leib Steinman, are aware of the dangerous, relatively new pairing of the words "Jewish" and "democratic" ).

Racist rabbis' reliance on state laws can be seen as stemming from the same mythology in which most secular people also believe: the State of Israel is the "renewal of the kingdom" and the rest of the messianic portents, which have nothing to do with the history of the Jewish religion as developed in the Diaspora, in any case always under non-Jewish rule.

People, of course, may stick to their mythology, but they should not come complaining to the racist rabbis, who extract ethnic politics from the Torah, the Talmud or the writings of the Maimonides. What their manifesto contains is closer to "Mein Kampf" than to the kingdom of David or the Hasmoneans.

Indeed, a new phase has begun, in which the right and its racist book of laws is transforming the old morality of turning a blind eye. The bill permitting towns to bar certain residents is replacing the consensus by which Arabs were not accepted as kibbutz members. The racist rabbis have enshrined in Jewish law the Arab-free neighborhoods that were already created, in secular fashion, by residents of upscale areas like Tel Aviv's Ramat Aviv, Haifa's Merkaz Hacarmel and Jerusalem's Rehavia.

Here is another way - besides a legal proceeding - to fight the racist rabbis: Open the doors to Arab neighbors and tenants. Let the religious ruling disappear.