Israel ‘Jewish State’: why be scandalized by this definition?

“The State of Israel is democratic, founded on liberty, justice and peace, in accordance with the vision of Israel’s prophets, which upholds the individual rights of all of its citizens according to the law”.

This is the beginning of the draft bill that would eventually recognize Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish people. It does not seem threatening for democracy at all as, on the contrary, the commentators who never even read it hurried to cry aloud. It is remarkable how much criticism and discontent came from the fact that the Israeli Parliament discussed the bill that, once approved, will establish Israel as the National State of the Jewish People. A self-evident truth that does not take any right away from minorities, as the fact that the United States is the nation of the American people does not take this right away from anyone.

What is annoying so much the international public opinion? What is pushing people to believe that such a legislative foundation could turn into racism and discrimination? Is not Italy the State of the Italian People? Is not each nation the nation of the People that resides inside its borders with historical, cultural and sometimes even religious motivations, without this meaning that the rights of its minorities are to be spoiled? Why has the Israeli government, which so many people love to hate, immediately been suspected of wanting to wield its sword against non-Jewish religions and other ethnic groups? Where is the trace suggesting that something like this could ever happen? There are no such traces whatsoever, not in the story of this country, which respected every difference, and not in the words of the draft bill which will obtain the majority, in other words the one already approved by the Cabinet. Maybe it is not clear, and it is definitely not clear for our friends as well, even if it has been remarked many times, that the Jewish People is indeed a People, and that Judaism is not only a religion.

As the constitutionalists explain, many Western countries often define the belonging of the land to its People in a more determined way than the “basic law”, not yet voted by the Israeli Chamber, does. And nobody among the commentators from the New York Times or Haaretz seems to know that there actually are three bill drafts to be compared. So, they decided to report the harshest version of the story, without even saying that the more moderate and soft version of the bill will most probably be the option that will become law in the end. It would be good if, for once, the public opinion would try to see the truth while judging Israel. And the truth is that the law will simply establish what everyone already knows and sees and that is natural for any other People in any other nation. Israel is the State of the Jewish People; its epic history has been built to allow Jewish hands to recover their homeland.

As Italians, we had our Risorgimento and our Resistance; in the same way, the Jewish people had its moments of identification both in contemporary history and in the past. Moreover, the historical and factual reasons for this are so strong, while the sacrifice and the heroism in self-determination, an essential principle of our era, are so patent that it should never occur to anybody to question them.

Even those who put the protection of the rights of the minorities first – and this is an incontrovertible and vital right – should inform themselves better. In the first place, the more extreme versions of the bill, those which some could have suspected of discrimination, have been already discarded. Nevertheless, many newspapers do not consider this and keep on citing them even if the Cabinet already crossed them out.

The basic law proposed by the government consists of 14 points and says: “The land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish People and the birthplace of the State”. Then, the document deals with the national anthem, “Hatikva”, with the right of return, which is extended to every Jew, with the need to strengthen the connection between Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora and with the members of the Jewish People who are in distress anywhere in the world.

It deals with education and not with religion; when it comes to religion, it says that all the members of other faiths shall have the right to celebrate their festivities and practice their cult, while all religions shall keep their holy places. Freedom, justice, integrity, peace are cited as Israel’s typical principles, deeply rooted in its heritage. There is absolutely no trace of the discriminatory principles you may find in other draft laws.

The principle of equality, which is not explicitly mentioned in order to avoid reactions from the ultra-Orthodox parties, clearly appears in the reference to the Declaration of Independence, since the bill incorporates the text of the 1948 declaration as it was drafted and read by David Ben-Gurion himself. “In these days, when various nationality bills are being proposed…there must be no room for discrimination of groups within Israel’s civil society… and it is very important to sanctify the principles of equality on which the Declaration of Independence is based…”. In the preface, which is composed of five sentences, the word “equality” is mentioned five times. Many other points of the project that will probably be chosen deal with it.

The discriminatory principles that were at the base of the proposals advanced by the right were overstepped by the political decision for which the bill must be sponsored by the government and Netanyahu must give his approval. Sure, those who love to hate Bibi will keep on hating him and the international propaganda will keep on throwing bombs, but any common-sense person will read the text and see that Arabs, Bedouins, Armenian, Circassians and so on will actually continue to enjoy a full protection of all their civil and cultural rights. On the contrary, as is widely known, in addition to a boldly nationalist platform, the Arab Palestinians unquestionably adopted a nationalist platform that is discriminatory toward the Jews, while insisting on the completely and exclusively Arab feature of their State.

The Palestinian National Charter says: “Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation”.

Does anyone have the impression that there is room for a minority? All the more for the large Israeli minority that will result from a considerable separation of territories in favor of the Palestinians for the establishment of a Palestinian State; if, in other words, the settlements will end up in the hands of the Palestinians. Anyone who still has some hope should read Abu Mazen’s speeches where he repeatedly stated that he does not want to see a single Jew on his territories when the Palestinian State will be born. This is pure culture of hate, like the one that sanctifies terrorists and names Palestinian squares after them. It has nothing to do with us, so we will not confront it.

What, on the contrary, is particularly important to us is the political point in the need to assert loud and clear that Israel, Jewish State, will never be a discriminatory country toward minorities for this very reason. And that, when Abu Mazen says that he will never recognize Israel as the Jewish State, he is fishing in troubled waters. He is trying to fuel a dizziness-inducing confusion about Judaism as a religion and not as the eternal root of the life of a variegated and diversified People, in part religious and in part secular. If the law will confirm that the buses shall not operate on Saturdays, the choice would not be so different from what happens in Italy, where Sunday is a national holiday or Christmas a public one.

A People can, or indeed must recognize its roots, its nature, and the values for which it lives and dies, especially if, like Israel, every day is about the need to defend them from a discriminatory and violent attack. A People must maintain its identity in the face of the one who swore never to recognize you for what you are. Especially because it is patent that, behind Abu Mazen’s refusal, hides (barely) the project of the indiscriminate right of return and, ultimately, the plan of swamping the Jewish People in a binational state poised to become exclusively Arab.

Israel is the State of the Jewish People, and it will protect the rights of minorities like no other. Everything else is just utter humbug. Moreover, if there is a way to come back to the peace talks, it is connected to a clear definition of the parts. The Jewish People is one of them.


This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in (February 28, 2015)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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