The Jewish Nation-state Bill: A Law Fit for the New Israel

The racist bill, if it passes, will only dress the loathsome practices of the last generation in a clean white suit.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Likud MK Zeev Elkin. key backer of Jewish nation-state bill.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“I will never give an order that goes against your conscience,” says the Adolf Hitler character in the play “Good” by C.P. Taylor. Of course not. After all, a conscience has elastic properties and can be kneaded and shaped to fit every order and every law. Effective rulers know how to cast a unified national conscience, and convince others of the righteousness of their exploits, until no deviation from any set of values will seem like it violates one’s conscience.

So it is with the proposed Basic Law: Israel – the Nation-State of the Jewish People. This racist creation being advanced by MK Ze’ev Elkin isn’t the first effort to set the state’s Jewish identity above its civil-democratic identity; others in the nationhood design lab have included such luminaries as Avi Dichter, Ayelet Shaked, Robert Ilatov and Miri Regev, now to be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the final product will not stand. Once it was the prime minister who torpedoed the legislation; once it was actually those proposing the “softened version,” Shaked and Ilatov, who pushed aside the more racist version, and this week it was Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who in her capacity as chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation broke up the basement beer party. It seems that crumbs of the democratic conscience, the one that still remembers that Israel at its founding intended to grant equal rights to all its citizens, are still scattered in the hallways of the legislature. By next Sunday perhaps they, too, will disappear.

Most of the opposition to the bill focuses, as it should, on the sections that would undermine Arabs’ civil rights. Their language would lose its status as an official language, their collective rights as a minority would practically disappear, and the right of other nationalities “to maintain separate communal settlements” will be bestowed by the government and not legislated as a material right. But this is a self-righteous objection at best. Because with regard to the Arabs, the bill reflects the national conscience that has been firmly developed here for a generation.

Defining the Arabs as an enemy did not start this year, nor did pushing them out of the state budget, excluding them from politics, erecting fortified walls to prevent them from living in Jewish areas, and the ease with which suggestions to transfer them beyond the state’s borders are accepted. All these have become part and parcel of the Jewish state’s identity. This bill, if it passes, will only dress these loathsome practices in a whitewashed suit. It certainly will not go against the new Jewish conscience. Given their inferior status, it isn’t worthwhile for the Arabs to object. Let the Jews wallow in their own racist filth, which only demonstrates the form of apartheid dictated by the combination of religion and nationalism.

This law, by the way, does not spare those Jews who innocently believe that it is aimed only at Arabs. It also proposes that Israel become a halakhic state, one based on Jewish law. “Israel will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” it states. Jewish law will be a source of inspiration for legislators and judges, and in the absence of case law or “pronounced inference,” the courts will make decisions based on “the principles of liberty, justice, integrity, and peace of the Jewish heritage.”

The Egyptian constitution, which states that “Sharia [Islamic law] will be the primary source for legislation,” and the Saudi Arabian constitution, which makes it clear that the Koran is its constitution, will now be joined by the Israeli nationality law. Perhaps this is the covenant of brotherhood with the “moderate” Arab states that our prime minister has been talking about.

But what exactly is the vision of the prophets and who will be the sages to interpret the words of the prophets? Most important, what principles of justice and peace are the Jews of Israel meant to rely on, when the bill itself eliminates them?

Our fundamentalist legislators have no answer, of course. The main thing is that this is a law against Arabs.