Editorial

Blight of the Nation-state Law

What do Netanyahu, Meir Kahane and the nation-state law all have in common? A desire to delegitimize Arabs of equal citizenship

Illustration.
Amos Biderman

A straight line connects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legitimization of the doctrines of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the attempts to delegitimize any cooperation whatsoever with “the Arab Knesset members,” and the enactment of the nation-state law. What all three have in common is that they remove Arab citizens of Israel from the “demos” – the public that enjoys equal rights and is relevant to democratic decision making.

What makes the nation-state law unacceptable is its refusal to recognize that there are non-Jews living here, and that Israel is also their country. Even the new nationalist constitution passed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary recognizes minorities as part of the public that upholds the state. And the same was true of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

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But the nation-state law did the opposite. Even if the Supreme Court rules that nothing in the law is an unconstitutional infringement on minorities’ rights, this would not erase the anti-democratic message the law sends. The nation-state law tells non-Jews they are subjects, not citizens with equal rights who are called upon to participate in building Israel.

Its enactment intensified the delegitimization of cooperating with the Arab MKs. And in the face of this law’s evil spirit, it’s necessary to point out that there’s actually no such thing as “forging a blocking majority.” Rather, any such majority is formed automatically as the result of the election whenever 60 legislators are unwilling to support a certain person for prime minister.

Attempts to claim that forging such an alliance with the Arab parties is tantamount to treason or trying to destroy the state have once again let the cat out of the bag: Arabs’ Israeli citizenship is of limited value – and even worse, they are enemies of the state. Their votes don’t really count. The fact that they are “allowed” to be elected (subject to a plethora of attempts to disqualify them) is a fig leaf meant to cover up the fact that their votes are considered illegitimate in forming a majority to make significant decisions about the country.

In an attempt to deflect the criticism that Netanyahu, his Likud party and the entire rightist camp have suffered over his alliance with the Kahanists, the prime minister and his people have been arguing, “But the left is thinking about talking with the Arabs.” This argument reveals the ideological meeting point between the Israeli right and Kahanism – the delegitimization of Arabs’ equal citizenship.

Israel needs a countervailing spirit to oppose the national, anti-democratic spirit of the nation-state law, the hatred of Arabs and the delegitimization of Arab citizens and their Knesset representatives. It needs leaders who are wise enough both to understand and to explain to their fellow Israelis that cooperation between Jews and Arabs isn’t just legitimate, but desirable, and that any healthy Israeli society must seek to expand it. Even if it’s still hard to envision a governing coalition in which Arab parties would sit together with Zionist parties, since they would be unable to agree on the government’s guidelines, such a partnership must not be disqualified due to racism. Of course it’s also possible for the Arab parties to support the government without being a part of it.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.