The Nation-state Law: Useless and Harmful

A quarter of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and one of the most important items on our agenda should be their integration into the country's society and economy.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Mourners at the funeral of Israeli police officer Zidan Saief, a Druze, on Nov. 19, 2014. How will minority citizens react to this law?
FILE: Mourners at the funeral of Druze Israeli police officer.Credit: AFP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

Who needs the Jewish nation-state law now in the process of legislation in the Knesset? For 66 years the Jewish state, the State of Israel, has existed without it, why do we need it now?

We don’t need legislation to make Israel a Jewish state, and you cannot make it a Jewish state by legislation.

It is a Jewish state, because the majority of the population is Jewish, because the dominant language spoken is Hebrew, because most of the books published here are Hebrew books, and most of the songs sung here are Hebrew songs. Because the national anthem is "Hatikva," and the national flag is blue and white and bears the Star of David, and because the army is the Israel Defense Forces. But most important, because of the Law of Return which enables any Jew, anywhere in the world, seeking refuge or desiring to live in Israel, to come here and become a citizen of the country. Nothing more was needed these past 66 years and nothing more is needed today.

But not only is the proposed law unnecessary, it is harmful. A quarter of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and probably the most important item on the nation’s agenda should be their integration into the fabric of Israeli society and their participation in the Israeli economy. Giving them the feeling of being at home, of being equal citizens, enjoying the full rights of Israeli citizenship, and having access to the opportunities that Israel offers. Should they feel alienated, unwanted, or discriminated against, the result will be harmful not only to them, but also to Israel’s Jewish citizens, and the State of Israel itself.

How will Israel’s non-Jewish citizens react to this law? Some are most likely to see it as an attempt to emphasize that they are outsiders, no more than a tolerated minority. How will the Druze soldier serving in the IDF feel about it? And the Moslems and Christians who volunteer to serve in the IDF, or, alternatively, do a year of national service? Or the families of those who have fallen in the defense of Israel? The law is quite likely to be interpreted by them as an affront, or at the very least as a legislative maneuver which ignores their existence. It is hard to see that any of them would be pleased by this legislation, and understandably so.

The suspicion arises that those members of the Knesset who promote the Jewish nation-state bill either do not care what Israel’s non-Jewish citizens think about it, or else are attempting to make it clear that the latter are outsiders in this country. Which is worse? No hyperbolic argument which attempts to explain that in parallel to a Palestinian state – advocated by so many in the world and in Israel – Israel must be legislatively defined as a Jewish state, is likely to make an impression on those citizens. The rulers of the putative Palestinian state may not want any Jews living within its borders, but Israel wants its non-Jewish citizens to feel at home here, and to become part and parcel of Israel’s society. There is no comparison here, and therefore such obtuse argumentation cannot serve to justify the proposed legislation.

Any time would have been unsuitable for this legislation, but now is the worst time for it. There's no need to explain that we are witnessing a period of high tension between Jews and Arabs in the land. The last thing Israelis should want is to see Israel’s Arab citizens pulled into this maelstrom of Arab-Jewish hostility. It is not too farfetched to believe that may very well be the result of this ill-considered bill.

It serves no useful purpose and may do considerable harm. Those members of the Knesset who are promoting it would be well advised to withdraw this legislation.

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