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The Jewish Nation-state Bill Alienates Israel’s Arab Citizens for Nothing

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Israeli Arabs take part in a rally calling for the right of return for refugees who fled their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, near Atlit, Israel April 19, 2018
Israeli Arabs take part in a rally calling for the right of return for refugees who fled their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, near Atlit, Israel April 19, 2018Credit: \ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Just as some of us had been hoping that the Jewish nation-state bill had disappeared in one of the Knesset’s cubby holes, it has reappeared with renewed vigor, to be brought to a vote next week. It is a needless law and damaging to Israel. Whoever had hoped that the interminable committee discussions of this law would have made this clear to most participants are sorely disappointed. Only a very narrow-minded view of Israel can lead one to support this law.

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That Israel is a Jewish state is too obvious to need repeating in the form of a law. Wars have been fought and battles have been won to repel those who have tried over the years to destroy the Jewish state. And Israel stands prepared to continue to defend itself against its enemies. Nobody has any doubts regarding the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. After all these years why restate it in the form of a new law?

There is a very good reason why not to do so. Over 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. They are not about to leave, and Israel does not want them to leave. Quite the contrary. One of Israel’s greatest achievements is that it is functioning as a democratic society providing equality to its Arab citizens, while surrounded by hostility from most of the Arab world and engaged in a constant struggle against terrorism.

There is still room for much improvement in providing full equality in all spheres of life for Israel’s Arab citizens. But considering that relations between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens began in a bloody life-and-death struggle 70 years ago of Jewish-Arab civil strife, and an assault by a coalition of Arab armies against Israel, the state and its Jewish and Arab citizens have come a long way learning to live in peace and overcoming many obstacles along the way.

Israel has many achievements to its credit, but this is one of the most outstanding, and its lawmakers should beware in taking measures that might a cast a pall on this great achievement. The Jewish nation-state law is most likely to do exactly that.

Among the many millions of Arabs living in the Middle East, Israel’s Arab citizens are the only ones who have had the opportunity to live in a free, technologically-advanced economy that provides the academic, economic and social opportunities that only such a society can offer. This is true not only of the Arab population in Arab nation-states in the area, but also those who live in the area of Judea and Samaria under partial control of the Palestinian Authority, and even less so of those unfortunate Palestinians living under the control of Hamas in the Gaza Strip

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That Israel’s Arab citizens – many of whom prefer to identify as Palestinians rather than as Israeli Arabs, in order to emphasize their identification with the Palestinian struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state – are taking advantage of these opportunities is first and foremost evidence of the talents and ambitions of Israel’s Arab citizens, but should also be a source of pride to Israel’s Jewish citizens.

The needless emphasis at this time on the “Jewish” nature of the State of Israel embodied in the proposed law, and the almost insulting downgrading of the Arab language as being secondary to Hebrew, is most likely to be seen by many of Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens as a step backwards from advances that have been achieved over the years. No amount of legal quibbling is likely to change that.

Israel’s politicians would do better investing their energies in correcting a basic fault in the Israeli educational system that has failed to provide Israel’s Jewish schoolchildren with the ability to converse freely in Arabic, making the Arabic language, what Israel’s founding fathers intended it to be, an official language of the State of Israel on a par with Hebrew.

The nation-state bill can only play into the hands of those extremists among Israeli Arab politicians who are doing their level best to prevent the successful integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society and the Israeli economy.