Opinion

Why Are Secular Israelis Blind to the Dangers of the Nation-state Bill?

Of all people, the ultra-Orthodox are the ones opposing the bill – partly because it grants the courts the authority to determine what Jewish tradition is

People wrapped in Israeli flags watch fireworks from the Tel Aviv City Hall roof during Independence Day, May 11, 2016.
BAZ RATNER/REUTERS

Let’s assume the Palestinians were to relate seriously to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and to demonstrate their seriousness, they first sought to clarify exactly what nation-state they were being asked to recognize. Would it be the version outlined in MK Avi Dichter’s bill, or that in the bill proposed by Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin? Or perhaps the version in the government bill the justice minister is supposed to present in another two months?

The Palestinians aren’t suckers. If the Jews want to establish a Jewish version of the Islamic State, they want to be prepared. After all, they’re already dealing with Hamas and its religious ideology. Two states governed by religious law – one in the Gaza Strip and the other in Israel – is a little too much, even for them.

In the Jewish state they’re being asked to recognize, the supreme legislator would be that same God who commanded the annihilation of nations. And in his absence, authority would be granted to religious scholars. They are the ones who would clarify what the principles of “freedom, integrity, justice and peace contained in Jewish tradition” – which, according to the nation-state bill, would obligate Israel’s justices – actually are.

Let’s forget the principles of integrity and freedom – especially integrity – for a moment. What exactly is justice?

Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land,” said Lord Balfour in 1919. If so, Jewish-Zionist justice has already been defined for us.

And what about the principle of peace? Is it Joshua’s conquest of the Land of Israel in the Bible? Or perhaps Rabbi Kook’s dictum that “All of this land is absolutely ours, it belongs to all of us, and none of it can be handed over to others. ... Therefore, once and for all, this is clear and decisive. For there are no Arab territories and Arab lands here, only Jewish lands, the eternal inheritance of our forefathers. ... And therefore, we won’t abandon them or sever ourselves from them. For all this land, to the full extent of its biblical borders, belongs under the rule of the people of Israel.”

If this is the peace of Jewish tradition, what state remains for the Palestinians to recognize?

Let’s also forget for a moment about the diplomatic issues hidden like mines in these bills, or about harassing the Palestinians with questions about recognizing a Jewish state. Where has the voice of secular Israelis disappeared to, and why at the very time when the state is crocheting a skullcap for its head? Out of their great and justified concern for the welfare of Israeli Arabs, who are seen as the principal victims of the warped democracy contained in these bills, secular Israelis have forgotten the direct blow to their own beliefs.

For how can one reconcile the idea that the state is committed to the individual rights of all Israeli citizens (foreigners don’t count, of course) with the demand that the justice system be plugged into the inspiration of “Jewish tradition”? What legal remedy will be available to citizens who want to travel to the beach on Shabbat, go shopping on their day off or work on Shabbat if there is no suitable legal precedent or analogy, and the judges are forced to turn to the Book of Books? Moreover, won’t judges ambitious for promotion prefer the ancient “Jewish tradition” as a source for their rulings over Israeli law, so as to find favor in the eyes of the minister in charge of them?

And here’s the absurdity that ought to shake every secular Jew who respects his own beliefs: Of all people, the ultra-Orthodox are the ones opposing this bill, partly because it grants the court – which is generally comprised of human beings – the authority to determine what Jewish tradition is, instead of this authority being reserved for Jewish law and God.

It isn’t just the Palestinians. No country deserves the punishment of recognizing another state if these are its laws.