A Jewish and Undemocratic Bill

A new bill wants to direct schools to strengthen the concept of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

About 20 years ago Israel was defined by law as a “Jewish and democratic state.” This definition reflects the success of the Zionist program to establish a political home for the Jews in a democratic framework, one that grants equality to all its citizens, including non-Jews.

There’s no arguing that this is the right formulation. It constitutes a strong basis for the development of the state and for integrating its non-Jewish citizens – a goal deemed essential by successive governments of Israel. This definition is also acceptable to Israel’s friends in the world because it reflects two basic values that are important to them.

But in recent years an aggressive campaign has been underway to change the definition of Israel in such a way as to strengthen the Jewish component while making the democratic component subservient to it. That is how various bills have come into being, some of which have become law, such as the law that allows committees in small communities to admit or reject would-be residents. Some of these legislative initiatives are still under discussion, among them the Basic Law on the Nation State of the Jewish People, about which law professor and human rights expert Ruth Gavison is compiling a position paper to be presented to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not known as an advocate of anti-democratic positions, has also jumped on this bandwagon with his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish People.”

In the campaign to erase the definition “Jewish and democratic,” the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is to discuss a bill on Sunday A that will direct schools to strengthen the concept that views Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People.

But in fact, the case of civics teacher Adam Verete, summoned recently to an Education Ministry hearing for expressing leftist views in class, shows that what is needed is education to strengthen Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state, and the bill should be seen as nothing more than a rejection of the democratic element in Israel’s definition. The bill explains that “there is an attempt to harm the special connection between the people of Israel and their land, its uniqueness, and the belonging and affinity of the people of Israel to the State of Israel.”

It is clear that no such attempt has been made anywhere. What we have here is an attempt by those proposing the bill to erode the democratic component in the definition of the State of Israel.

That is sufficient reason for the ministerial committee to reject the bill, which should be seen more broadly as part of the campaign to annex the occupied territories while infringing on the rights of their Palestinian inhabitants.