Opinion

Israel's Nation-state Bill Stabilizes Democracy

Anarchy and intolerance toward minorities develop in places where minorities challenge the majority’s rule and the majority can't defend itself

Tomer Appelbaum

Opponents of the nation-state bill shriek that it’s discriminatory and harms democracy; this is why it’s criticized abroad as well. To argue this in Israel is ignorance, at best. Abroad it’s both hypocrisy and lies − nation-state clauses are an organic, understood and acceptable part of the constitutions of perfectly democratic countries. This is so even though their security and national identities aren’t under threat, as they are in Israel, by a national minority that denies the state’s very existence, supports acts of terror − and sometimes even takes part in them.

In their book “Israel and the Family of Nations,” Prof. Amnon Rubinstein and Dr. Alexander Yakobson write that the constitutions of many European countries have clauses defining them by nationality. And the constitutions of most European Union countries (including Ireland, Germany and France) have clauses granting special status − as proposed in the Israeli nation-state bill that they oppose − to their national diaspora.

The nation-state bill doesn’t stipulate that Israel will have a national religion. On the other hand, backward countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland categorically enshrine a national religion in their respective constitutions. The same goes for the official language. In France, the homeland of human rights, the constitution says there is one national language, French, despite the country’s many minorities.

Anyone who objects to the assertion that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people” or that “the right to realize self-determination in Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people” is also raising doubts about his very desire for self-determination for the Jewish people, or even to its having a national home. (And where besides Israel can the Jews realize their self-determination?)

The bill’s initial version, drafted by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, said that “only the Jewish people has the right to realize its national self-determination in Israel.” This version, promoted by MK Avi Dichter, was signed by most Kadima MKs and quite a few from Labor and other opposition parties. Those still in the Knesset today oppose even the modified, softer version. They’re afraid of being seen as “harming democracy.”

But the opposite is true. If democracy is harmed, this will (also) happen due to the lack of an unequivocal law that stipulates which nation this country belongs to. Anarchy and intolerance toward minorities develop in places where minorities challenge the majority’s rule and the majority can’t defend itself from the irredentism threatening it − also because in the absence of a law, the legal system prevents the majority from doing so.

Another argument is that the law would breach the Declaration of Independence. Really? Since the Supreme Court, when it was headed by Aharon Barak, ruled that the declaration is a declarative rather than a constitutional document, efforts have been made to enshrine it in a basic law, but in vain. When the state turned 50 there was an attempt to make MKs sign the declaration. Around 40 of them refused. They cited reasons such as the declaration doesn’t say Israel is a democracy, and it does say that “the Jewish people arose” there − wording that offends the Palestinian minority.

I’m not sure the bill will make it to a final vote this time either, and if it does, most of its feathers will probably be plucked. If that’s the result, then all the fuss and the widening of the rifts that occurred during its legislation were for naught.