On Wednesday, we’ll know whether the Knesset wants a state that is Jewish or democratic. The Knesset has no other choice but one of these two. Israel has no other real choice except one – one alone – of these two possibilities. It can’t be both, as the lie Israelis tell themselves. It’s a choice between them.
The vote to extend the amendment to the citizenship law will be a moment of truth. It’s true that the law itself isn’t important from a practical standpoint; Israel will always know how to get around it. But the declarative significance is important. It’s also true that Israel made its choice a long time ago. It chose to be Jewish from the moment of its establishment, when it passed the Law of Return. Since then, there has not been a moment where it was not faithful to this choice. All of its laws and actions were determined by this principle – to be a Jewish state above all, and after that, if possible, democratic. If possible, why not.
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Well, it’s not possible. We should appreciate those Israelis who admit their preference, sworn democrats or declared nationalists, for their integrity. The danger lurks from those who mislead, the vast majority who say that they want a country that’s both Jewish and democratic, and are certain that it’s possible. The advantage of the citizenship law, like the nation-state law, is that it requires a choice. It proves that you can’t sit on the fence.
There is no such thing as Jewish and democratic, because on Wednesday the Knesset will have to decide between the two. Those who prefer a Jewish state will vote to extend the discriminatory and infuriating amendment that marks a clear gap between the rights of a Jewish citizen and the rights of an Arab citizen, with outright Jewish supremacy in the legal code. Those who prefer a democratic state will of course vote against the law.
The most hypocritical is the vast majority of the Knesset, who will say that it is in favor of the law and also in favor of democracy; who will say that the law is temporary, only for one more year and that’s it, and that the security needs require it. Those are the most deceitful sales representatives of Zionism. Don’t buy a used car from them. They’ll cheat you.
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No one can still take seriously the security risks that abolishing the law would supposedly pose. Did Israel ever imagine preventing a Jew from the former Soviet Union – Jews, half-Jews and great-grandchildren of Jews – from becoming automatic citizens of Israel due to the criminal potential of a minority of them?
The only danger Israel fears in this law is demographic, even if few will admit it. The very mention of it – not a danger from foreign migrants or asylum seekers, but from those who are natives of this land at least as much as the Jews are – is intolerable nationalism. The very fact that this danger is a subject for debate shows the choice Israel has already made between a Jewish state and a democratic one. It shows that it lied at the beginning about a people without a land coming to a land without a people; that it wants to be supreme in a country that was never without a people. Israel chose to be a Jewish state with lip service to being a democratic state. As long as there is a contradiction between the two, the preference is clear, disguised as security considerations that cover everything.
During the civil war in Syria, the Haifa artist Abed Abadi wanted to rescue his sister, who was under siege in the Yarmouk refugee camp. His sister was born in this country, in Haifa, the salt of the earth. All his efforts failed: Although he is a citizen of Israel, he was not allowed to return his sister to the land of her birth, not even with the threat of death hanging over her. Her brother, a citizen of Israel, was unable to save her, because he is not a Jew. What do you say to citizen Abadi? Call it what you want, egalitarian democracy it isn’t. Lutfiya died in Syria, and with her the illusion of Israeli democracy. On Wednesday another nail will be hammered into this ancient coffin.