What We Can Learn From the Nation-state Law

There was a world of difference between the very impressive Druze demonstration and that held by Arab political extremists, waving Palestinian flags, one week later

Israelis from the Druze community, together with others, take part in a rally to protest against the nation-state law, Tel Aviv, Israel, August 4, 2018.

Now that the turmoil over the nation-state law seems to have subsided, we have an opportunity to reflect on the law and the reactions to it among the various groups within Israeli society.

Most would agree that it would have been far better to mobilize broad support for the law – rather than cobbling together a narrow majority by making a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which opposed it, in return for a compromise in the law governing military conscription – and, if that was not possible, to wait. There was no rush. We managed without this law for 70 years and could get along without it for some years to come. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people with or without the law. The fact that a small, vocal minority expresses reservations about that is no need to force the law through the Knesset. It won’t change their minds in any case.

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Formulating the law without explicitly mentioning the status of the Druze community in the Jewish state was a big mistake. The great contribution of Israel’s Druze and Circassian communities should not be taken for granted. Nor should the Israeli Arabs, Muslim and Christian, who volunteer for military service be forgotten. How the many Knesset committee sessions devoted to the nation-state law could have missed that is still inexplicable. Hopefully it will now be corrected. Better late than never.

The demonstrations against the law brought to light the vast difference between the position taken by the political leadership of Israel’s Arab community and that of Israel’s Druze. There was a world of difference between the very impressive Druze demonstration in Tel Aviv and that held by Arab political extremists, waving Palestinian flags, one week later.

The Arab political leadership has tried to paper over these differences and present itself as representing all of Israel’s minority population, including the Druze. If any proof were needed, the two demonstrations made it clear that the Arab political leadership did not speak for the Druze. The participation in the Arab demonstration of some Jews purporting to represent the Israeli left made it clear that they as well were keeping their distance from the Druze. They did not need to say so in so many words. Their presence said so louder than words. They are what Vladimir Lenin in his day called the “useful idiots.”

A question remains over the degree to which the Arab Knesset members from the Joint List represent the views of the majority of Israel’s Arab community. Do they share the virulent attacks against Israel voiced daily by these MKs? And if they do not, why did most of them vote for the Joint List in the last election, and how will they vote in the next?

Part of the answer lies in the raising of the electoral threshold to 3.25% before the last election — by a narrow majority. That forced the four predominantly Arab parties to unite as the Joint List, leaving little choice to Arab voters wanting to support a party that was likely to represent their interests. The other parties in the Knesset have done little to attract Arab voters. MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) is at present the only Arab MK not in the Joint List.

The paradox is that the Likud government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done more than any previous governments to allocate substantial government funds to the Arab sector. But the “anti-Arab” rhetoric of many Likud MKs is unlikely to draw Arab voters to Likud.

This leaves most Arab voters captive to the extremists of the Joint List, unless good sense prevails and the threshold for entry to the Knesset is lowered.