Editorial

Don’t Soften It, Bury It

That Bennett wants to turn Israel into a state of the Jewish race is not new, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lending a hand to this blatant racism in his panicked efforts to pass the law swiftly

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on July 15, 2018
AFP

The attempts to legitimize and whitewash the nation-state bill do not cease. After President Reuven Rivlin, the attorney general, and the Knesset legal adviser objected to Clause 7B, “Separation in communities,” the prime minister’s envoy for dirty work, Minister Yariv Levin, submitted a “softened” version. It calls for the state to encourage, establish and strengthen Jewish settlement, indicating that encouraging such settlement is a legitimate realization of the Zionist vision and not discrimination or inequality. This is a whitewash meant to overcome the criticism and permit continued discrimination.

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Levin himself confirmed this by saying, “It’s totally clear that the principle of Jewish settlement will be included in the final version of the bill.” On Sunday, even Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett admitted that his party had come to an agreement with Likud regarding the Jewish settlement clause, and boasted that he himself had suggested the wording under which “the state sees developing Jewish communities as a national value and will act to encourage, promote and establish them.”

That Bennett wants to turn Israel into a state of the Jewish race is not new, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lending a hand to this blatant racism in his panicked efforts to pass the law before the end of the Knesset’s summer session, so he can portray himself as an extreme nationalist in the next election campaign.

The problem with the nation-state bill is not only what’s in it, but also what’s not. The bill’s authors made sure to remove any commitment to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, most prominently the principle of equal rights for all its citizens. Prior to further discussion of the bill this week, the clause which says the state will work to preserve its ties with Diaspora Jews was amended.

The aim of the change is embarrassing: The government wants Israel to be able to continue to undermine these ties, for example, with its moves against Reform Judaism and the disputes regarding prayer at the Western Wall.

Then, on Sunday, in a last-minute move, the word “religious” was inserted into the bill’s first section. Now it reads, “The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.” The fact that the state is defining itself as religious – a definition that was deliberately omitted from the Declaration of Independence – provides more encouragement for the caustic processes of religious coercion and the destructiveness inherent in the bill. There’s no doubt that this will be used to justify demands to intensify the influence of religion on the state.

The nation-state bill is a shameful initiative in any version, with Clause 7B or without it. Israel doesn’t need a law that defines it as the nation-state of the Jewish people, casts a heavy pall over its democratic character and harms its minorities and those who aren’t considered Jewish under Jewish law. This law must be immediately and irrevocably buried.

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