Opinion

The Declaration of Independence, Errata

Israel's nation-state bill sums up life in Israel in a very clear fashion: There’s a party going on here, it’s for one side only, and if anyone has a problem with that, they should scram

The bill, intended as a Basic Law, would create a nation-state not envisaged in the Declaration of Independence, which promised equality for all of Israel's citizens.
Wikimedia Commons

The most common criticism of the new nation-state bill among the Zionist center left is that it’s unnecessary, since it merely confirms well-known axioms embodied in the Declaration of Independence – first and foremost the Jewish people’s right to a national home in the Land of Israel. Only Meretz and its chairwoman, Zehava Galon, had the courage to say that this is a racist law, and even they did so in a restrained manner.

In fact, it’s an extremely racist law whose purpose is to pierce the thin film of ambiguity in which the Declaration of Independence is wrapped. Aside from stripping away the liberal values and universalist tone that characterize the Declaration, which repeatedly addresses the world at large (while also citing the historical context and the vision of Israel’s prophets), the Jewish nation-state law, which repeatedly stresses the primacy of Jewish values over democratic ones, is meant to crudely decide the outcome of several painful conflicts.

While the Declaration of Independence succeeded in gilding and polishing its Archimedean point, later called the Law of Return, by making do with the vague statement that “the State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles,” Article 6 of the nation-state bill is simply titled “Return” and states that “Every Jew is entitled to immigrate to Israel and acquire citizenship ... according to law” (in contrast, naturally, to members of other ethnic or religious groups). While the Declaration of Independence tries to remain as open, rounded and beautiful as possible – Israel “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions,” and so forth – the nation-state bill, aside from lip service in the form of a few similar statements, hammers in points like “the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

And while the Declaration of Independence circumvented the unpleasant issue of where Jews and Arabs would live – or to be more precise, the latter’s right to live alongside the former – Article 9(b) of the nation-state bill says unblushingly, “the state is entitled to allow a given community, including members of a single religion or a single ethnic group, to establish separate residential communities.” The goal of this clause, aside from granting legal permission to discriminate against various peoples, is to thwart democratic terror attacks like the High Court of Justice’s ruling in the 1995 Kaadan case, which forced the community of Katzir to allow an Arab couple to purchase land there.

The nation-state bill, which takes much less trouble to prettify itself than the Declaration of Independence did, sums up life in Israel in a very clear fashion: There’s a party going on here, it’s for one side only, and if anyone has a problem with that, they should scram.

The opposition’s somewhat vague objections are no accident. The nation-state bill, a shocking demon from our unconscious, raises the dilemmas of 1948 and with them certain unresolved conflicts between democracy and Judaism with regard to the state’s character. It has nothing to do with the firm consensus that unites the left – opposing the occupation of the West Bank, an area where more or less everyone feels comfortable. Instead, it deals with embarrassing issues like the Law of Return, which creates a distinction not just between potential citizens, but also between actual citizens (a Jew can reunite with his family by having them move to Israel while an Arab cannot).

Nor is there anything accidental or arbitrary about the bill’s promotion by the right. Aside from reflecting the zeitgeist – an era of pushing through brutal decisions and trampling on delicate tapestries – the Jewish nation-state bill is essentially intended to liquidate the Zionist left by imprisoning it in this same ideological trap.

But even more than that, it’s an attempt at self-defense against the Palestinian national awakening that is sweeping through those who were once called (but refuse to be called any longer) “Israeli Arabs.” Yes, the Israeli right, which takes no account of the left, is trembling in fear of the Arabs.

That’s why Knesset members from all three Arab parties comprising the Joint List – from Hadash to Balad – have been steadily growing stronger in terms of their national identity, and also why the incitement against them has been steadily increasing (comparisons to the Islamic State, the Nazis and other enemies). Yes, the time has come to deal with the threat posed by 20 percent of the population through legislation.