Further Thoughts on Israel’s Nation-State Law

Israel’s recently adopted Nation-State law purposefully conflates the concepts of a nation and a state, to the detriment of the latter and the current State of Israel.

It is undeniably and factually true, as the “Principles” of the law state, that: A. the land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established; B. the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and C. the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

But it is also true that: A.  the land of Israel, a.k.a. the land of Palestine, is also the historical homeland of the Palestinian Arab people, in which the State of Palestine was to be (and perhaps will be) established; B. the State of Palestine was supposed to be (and perhaps will be) the national home of the Palestinian Arab people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and C. the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people but the theoretical right to exercise national self-determination in the land of Israel, a.k.a. Palestine, i.e. in an as-yet-to-be established State of Palestine is also unique to the Palestinian Arab people.  What Jews are able to do in the State of Israel, the Palestinians should be able to do in their own state. The same principles in theory apply to both nations.  This was something that the original UN resolution partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states made clear.

The Nation-State law promotes an older European concept of a nation/state, which conflates nation and state into a singular entity, a concept usually championed by right-wing governments.  Sadly, this model is being revived in many European countries today—and is being promoted in America as well by the current administration.

For Jews, what this Basic Law does is to sanctify the Zionist dream by codifying its symbols as law: the flag, the language, the calendar, etc.—all of which would have been appropriate to do in 1947.  In 2018, however, it is time to acknowledge that the core Zionist dream has been accomplished:  the State of Israel as the Jewish state was established and much of the Jewish nation reassembled in part of its historical homeland.  Beginning in 1967, some Jews have sought to redefine Zionism as Jewish settlement in all of the Land of Israel, a principle that some Zionist groups never renounced, but it must be acknowledged that this was a revision of the core dream of “being a free nation in our own land.”

Now it is time to recognize that the State of Israel is more than just the national home of the Jewish people. The State of Israel isthe national home of the Jewish people, in which it can uniquely exercise its right to self-determination, but at the same time the State of Israel is greater than the exercise of this right.  The State of Israel is also the state of a large Palestinian Arab and a sizable Druze minority; it has two main languages; at least two major cultures; and its religions are various forms of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Baha’i, and other faiths.  The modern State of Israel has transcended the Zionist dream. What Israel needs as part of its Basic Laws is not some retrospective, retroactive law but something that embraces the present situation and faces the future without fear.

Zionism is dead; long live Zionism!

 

About the Author
Rabbi Anson Laytner of Seattle is currently president of the Sino-Judaic Institute and longtime editor of its journal Points East. Before retiring, he taught at Seattle University and worked with the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
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