Bibi Is Violating the Nation-State Law

Our prime minister has gotten into the habit of violating the Nation-State Law by using his leadership voice and bully pulpit to promote ideas that thousands of years of Halakhic Judaism abhors.

Beyond any binding legal effect, the Nation-State Law has a “signal” function.  It enshrines into the foundational fabric of the State of Israel that we Jews, having finally returned from Exile to our homeland, are tasked and trusted again to be sovereign and govern ourselves as Jews.

Far from meaning that this state is only for Jews, and in addition to acknowledging our historical right to be here, that signal imposes upon us a duty to govern and behave in accordance with basic precepts of Judaism.  Other nations may reference a constitution or other foundational texts to guide their behavior.   We should apply the Nation-State Law to infuse Jewish values as the legitimating basis for our government.

When it comes to governing the modern State of Israel, among the competing core Jewish norms and values, “Hesed” should take center stage.   Hesed is a hard word and concept to translate.  It captures a broad array of related values such as solidarity, loyalty, dependability, mercy, compassion,understanding, and other virtues connecting us to one another.  It is a quality that characterizes those who know and walk in the ways of G-d which, as Maimonides taught, we are obligated to do.

Hesed’s relevance to the Nation-State Law is that, beyond a personal quality, Hesed is also a covenant that lies at the foundation of Jewish sovereignty and peoplehood.  Our thousands-year old tradition teaches us that “the world is built through Hesed” ((עולם חסד יבנה, and that G-d’s creation of our entire world, “from nothing to something,” is a manifestation of Hesed in its pure state.

And from there we also learn that “by elevating ourselves through the trait of Hesed we too are building our own world” (R. Yitzhak Hutner, Pahad Yitzhad).

Walking in the ways of G-d means that those who have the historical chance to create and build daily the State of Israel should use Hesedas a primary tool of government.  What classical Judaism transmits to us is that, if we are going to have a Jewish Nation-State, it should be built by acting in G-d’s creationist ways of Hesed.  If the Nation-State law truly proclaims that we are building a Jewish society, it must be read to impose this obligation on us.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, for all his accomplishments in vital areas, seems bent on rejecting Hesed as a guiding principle.  Examples abound:

The prime minister brazenly cultivates a “base” of supporters spanning roughly half of the Jewish electorate.  He divides the Jewish people by rejecting solidarity and loyalty with all Jews, even those who vote against him, and he demonizes those who threaten his rule.

Instead of showing loyalty to the institutions of the State, the prime minister has no qualms bringing down the police, the courts, the press, and his own attorney general, a good man who agonized over the decision to indict Netanyahu and who consulted with a small brigade of senior jurists before issuing his opinion.

The prime minister perverts the Nation-State Law by brandishing it as a weapon of Jewish supremacy, forgetting that being a Jew means showing Hesed for the stranger among us.  Whether or not Israeli Arab citizens are halakhically “strangers,” the Prime Minister’s Twitted words excluding and denying them an equal place among us is not the way of Hesed.

The prime minister, for all the adoration that he will receive at AIPAC, has shown that, when it suits his political interest, he will retreat from and reject initiatives meant to recognize the Judaism practiced by the majority of American Jews.

The prime minister cohorts with Jewish zealots who admire a mass murderer.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and its common denominator is a will to put the leader’s hold on power before principles.

That is not what our tradition is about.  In one of the many instances when G-d told Moses that he would punish the Jewish people in the desert, Moses told G-d that he would rather be blotted out of history as a leader than allow G-d to do this.  Bibi, on the other, seems to prefer blotting out those who do not believe in him and him only.

It seems too late for Bibi to change his ways, and because he cannot live up to the basic expectations of Hesed, and of the new basic law holding that Israel is about Judaism, all those who want to steer us back to the path of timeless Jewish values should vote him out of office on April 9.

About the Author
Ari Afilalo (afilalo@camden.rutgers.edu) is a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. He grew up in France, the son of a Jewish Moroccan family, in an ethnically mixed working class neighborhood. He has published extensively in the field of international law. He is the current president of the West Side Sephardic Synagogue in Manhattan.
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