Opinion

The Nation-state Law Strikes Again

An Israelis woman demonstrates on October 19, 2019 in the coastal city of Tel Aviv to support the case of Naama Issachar, a 26-year-old Israeli sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail by a Russian court on October 11.
AFP

Justice Minister Amir Ohana announced this week that he had signed the order for the extradition of Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov to the United States, where he is wanted for cyber crimes. He will be extradited after Israel turned down a prisoner swap deal with Russia, Burkov in return for Naama Issachar, who is in prison in Russia for drug possession. Justifying his decision, Ohana said: “I wouldn’t make the connection between [Issachar] and Burkov, because if we make this connection, we would put every Israeli around the world at risk.”

Israel did not create this link between Issachar and Burkov, of course; Russia did when it raised the possibility of such a deal. Clearly the sentence Issachar received was out of proportion and she is being held by the Russians as a hostage. The logic Israel adopted is similar to what the policy of not negotiating with terrorists is based on – which is strictly adhered to, in the periods between prisoner swap deals: If Israel releases terrorists in return for soldiers or civilians, it will only encourage future kidnappings.

I don’t intend on arguing with this logic. Just last week Jordan arrested an Israeli citizen who crossed the border into Jordan, supposedly unrelated to the two Jordanian citizens Israel has detained without trial for the past month. Is a global trend of detaining civilians for negotiating purposes with supposedly neutral countries developing under our noses? From what Ohana said, it sounds like Israel’s attitude toward the Russian demand is similar to its stance toward a terrorist organization that demands ransom in return for kidnapped Israelis. It is worth remembering this the next time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes pride in his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s a sort of, tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.

But this affair has another point, too. At the press conference in which Ohana announced Burkov’s extradition, he explained that the obligation to bring Issachar home “derives from the nation state of the Jewish people law.” Our nation-state law? It turns out that Section 6(a) of the law, “The Connection with the Jewish People,” states: “The state shall strive to ensure the safety of members of the Jewish people and of its citizens, who are in trouble and in captivity, due to their Jewishness or due to their citizenship.” Also in the letter Ohana sent 10 days earlier to the Issachar family’s lawyer, he noted that Israel’s obligation to act to bring Naama back home in part stems from Section 6(a), because it is clear that she is being persecuted because she is Israeli.

Last year, the Jerusalem District Court based itself on the nation-state law in ruling on compensation for the victims of a 1998 terrorist attack. Judge Moshe Drori ruled that a Jew injured in a terror attack is entitled to punitive damages, even without proof of damages – based on Section 6(a). Drori said the bombing showed that “the state had not succeeded in its primary task” of ensuring the safety of members of the Jewish people.

The question this raises is whether based on the nation-state law, any Jew – even if they are not an Israeli citizen – is entitled to protection by Israel. Is any Jew in the world who runs into trouble as a result of anti-Semitism able to sue Israel for failing in its mission to guarantee their safety?

Maybe this is the reason that in December 2018 the Mossad received over 10 million shekels ($2.83 million) to beef up security at institutions of Jewish communities around the world. In other words, Israel pays for the security of Jews living overseas, who are not Israeli citizens. Time after time the nation-state law has been revealed to be a conceptual nuclear bomb at the heart of the Zionist enterprise, a law that undermines the idea of Jewish nationhood on one hand, and the notion of Israeli sovereignty on the other.