The Knesset’s passage of the nation-state bill last month surely ranks as one the most self-defeating moves in Israel’s history. Its passage was unnecessary, but the damage it has wrought, one can safely say now, is incalculable. The law is anti-Zionist in its essence: It has sowed division, spread venom, tainted Israel’s image and weakened its national resolve. If the Knesset’s intent was to bolster the ties between the Jewish nation and its land, the results have been exactly the opposite: The Zionist hold on the State of Israel has never seemed more dubious.
Take the Law of Return, for example. Before the nation-state law, it was barely mentioned. There was general agreement that clear-cut discrimination in favor of Jews in acquiring Israeli citizenship was justified, or at least understandable, against the backdrop of history and the Holocaust, and that their favored status ends once they enter the country. When drafters of the nation-state bill clutched at the precedent of the Law of Return in order to defend themselves, they infected it with obtuseness and malice of their own creation. Now the Law of Return also seems offensive.
Take apartheid, as another example. Making the analogy to the odious South African regime was mostly limited up to now to clear-cut enemies of Israel. The nation-state law shifted the comparisons to center stage.
And even that wasn’t enough for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: To justify his pre-planned ambush of the Druze leadership in their meeting last week, the Prime Minister’s Office falsely disseminated the claim that retired Israeli General Amal Assad had described Israel as an apartheid state, so that the whole world, and not just his followers on Facebook, would know about the comparison. Coming from a retired Druze combat brigadier-general, a supposed symbol of equality and integration, the apartheid analogy sounded like reliable testimony from an expert witness.
The nation-state law ripped off the mask that everyone had been content to live with of an enlightened, liberal and democratic Israel that grants indiscriminate equality to all of its minorities.
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The law has cast a dark shadow over Israel’s attitude, not only for the future but in the present and past as well. It revealed that even today, Israeli Arabs are cast to the sidelines, that the Druze suffer discrimination, despite their loyalty, and that the sentiments and sensibilities of non-Jews as a whole are bypassed and ignored. The new law has shown that it’s not enough for the Jews to be lords of the land. They insist on flaunting their superiority, for the entire world to see. If minorities don’t like it, the Knesset said, they can lump it.
The wickedness of the law is compounded by the fact that it is completely unwarranted. It aims to combat a threat that is a figment of the right wing’s feverish fantasies. Israel today is more “Jewish” than ever. The negligible demand for “a state for all its citizens” exists only on the margins. Most of the world recognizes the right of Jews to their homeland, and the country’s minorities have learned to live in peace with that reality.
The Supreme Court, which the law purports to restrain, routinely bows to security authorities, rarely finds in favor of Palestinians, consistently upholds Israel’s Jewish values and regularly allows the government and the Knesset to dismember Israeli democracy, almost to their hearts’ content. Netanyahu, along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, want to stifle whatever is left of the court’s independence.
“Without the nation-state law, the future of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews cannot be guaranteed,” Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, in one of the most inane assertions on record. Seriously? And here we were bamboozled to believe that the future of the Jewish state depends on its national unity, internal cohesiveness, commitment to democracy, struggle for equality and the sense of belonging it gives to minorities of all stripes and colors, all values that the nation-state law callously tramples. We had assumed that safeguarding the Jewish identity of Israel hinges, first and foremost, on maintaining a Jewish majority, without which, with or without the law, Israel will truly become an apartheid state.
Turns out we were wrong. According to Netanyahu, the 11 anemic clauses of the nation-state law are the rock of Israel’s existence and the path to its salvation. This is where Netanyahu would have us live: Not in the state of the Jews, but in the state of their delusions.