Nation-state Bill Isn't Racist – It Preserves the Legacy of Israel's Founding Fathers

It is not respectable to submit this bill to the vote in such a cynical way, which degrades its ideological, Zionist and Jewish content

In this May 15, 1948 file photo, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's New Premier, stands with an Israeli official who holds the signed document which proclaims the Establishment of the Jewish State of Israel.
AP Photo, File

On May 14, 1948 David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of “a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” The Constituent Assembly stipulated, as we learn from their resolutions, as well as their letters, speeches and diaries, that the Jews, and only the Jews, have a right to self-determination in the Land of Israel.

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Even Mapam, which advocated a binational-state ideology for a while, abandoned it when the War of Independence broke out and its representatives signed the Declaration of Independence, on which the proposed nation-state law is based. The most selective kibbutzim at the time were those of the far-left Hakibbutz Ha’artzi movement. Arabs weren’t the only ones excluded from them – Jews who didn’t observe all of Hashomer Hatzair’s commandments likewise couldn’t be accepted to Merhavia and the new kibbutzim set up on the lands abandoned by the Arabs. And if that was the norm in Hakibbutz Ha’artzi, it was certainly so in the other kibbutzim and rural communities of the less ideologically rigorous movements.

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According to statements made this week by members of Mapai and Mapam’s descendant parties, the Basic Law: Nation-State proposal is racist. If so, comrades, your (as well as our) founding fathers were tainted by racism of the basest kind. But the majority of the people do not think so. In fact, your raging objection to the nation-state bill, and the fact that you portray the founding fathers as racists, push the public further away from you. The public that has stuck to your path until now is, from survey to survey, abandoning you, the “sons and daughters” who have lost their way.

Even when spirits were inflamed over the “who’s a Jew” issue, there was total consensus that in Israel the Jewish nation and only the Jewish nation can realize its self-determination; that the state is the Jewish nation’s state, not the state of all its nations. (Today our scholars will scornfully and defiantly call that “ethnocentrism.”)

The need to preserve the state’s character according to the founders’ direction was already felt in the late 70s, when fashionable currents from the United States and Europe that challenged nationality (except, of course, the Palestinian brand) were adopted by Israeli academics, mainly from the disciplines of law, social science and the arts. These academics instilled these ideas in generations of students, including media people, who became their envoys and yes men in undermining Zionism’s foundations and advancing alien agendas.

In the argument that pitted the Zionism of Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson, Natan Alterman, Yitzhak Tabenkin and even Hashomer Hatzair leaders Ya’akov Hazan and Meir Ya’ari against those who enlisted to gnaw away at this basic, existential ideology, the High Court of Justice ruled, for the most part, in favor of the latter. The Basic Law: Nation-State proposal was intended therefore to preserve the founding fathers’ legacy against those – including the High Court – acting to destroy it.

About a decade ago, it was Kadima, headed by the peripatetic Tzipi Livni, who submitted the nation-state bill to the Knesset, crafted in a much more ambitious (i.e. racist) style. Twenty Kadima MKs signed it, as did others from opposition parties. Had Benjamin Netanyahu wanted the bill, it would have passed with a great majority. But he chose to freeze it. Now, when the bill’s feathers have been plucked and it’s raising an acute internal controversy, he’s pulling it out for his tactical needs, which could change tomorrow.

It is not respectable to submit this bill to the vote in such a cynical way, which degrades its ideological, Zionist and Jewish content. Only those of exemplary moral conduct and pure intentions are worthy of submitting a bill with spiritual and historic meaning like the nation-state bill.