My Dutch Interview: 5 Questions and 5 Answers

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Sanne van Grafhorst, the editor of a Dutch national daily newspaper, NEDERLANDS DAGBLAD, in Holland. She had read my two articles in the TIMES OF ISRAEL concerning the new Nation-State law and she was in process of writing an article on it for the Dutch newspaper. She wanted to interview me for my opinion on the contents of the new law.

I consented to the interview, but stated that all my responses to her questions would be my own personal thoughts and would not reflect on opinions officially expressed in Israel. She agreed and with that she sent me five questions for my consideration.

The interview was entitled “An Interview with Dr. Esor Ben-Sorek, July 21, 2018, by Sanne van Grafhorst, Editor, NEDERLANDS DAGBLAD, Holland.”

It interested me that a newspaper in Holland wanted to write an article about Israel’s new Basic Law on the subject of Nation-State and I tried to respond to her questions, stating only my own personal opinion.

The Editor’s questions and my responses were in English. For her article in the Dutch newspaper she will obviously have to translate both into Dutch.

I hope that her translation will agree with the expressions of my opinions which in no way reflects the editorial policies or opinions of the TIMES OF ISRAEL.

When her article is published in NEDERLANDS DAGBLAD this week, she will forward a copy to me and I will send a copy of it to our fellow blogger, Mordechai van Zuiden, the flying Dutchman, for his interest and wise comments.

As I write these lines, I have just heard that our most beloved minority community, the brave and loyal Druze citizens of Israel, have petitioned the High Court of Justice to repeal the Nation-State law, which they consider to be undemocratic, favoring Jewish citizens over all others. They are convinced that the new law will put them in a category of second-class citizens. God forbid a hundred times.

The Druze are like our brothers. Their priest, Yitro, was the father-in-law of Moses, father of his wife Zipporah.

We have lived together side by side with our Druze brothers and sisters for generations.. Our High Court must abolish all clauses in the new law which are harmful to the security and life-style of our minorities.

It is a pity, for me personally, that this unhappy situation has occurred one day after my interview from Holland. I would have made mention of it in my comments. My wish is to support the Druze petition and hope that our High Court of Justice will find an acceptable resolution, one that the Druze can accept.

Our minorities are equal citizens with the Jews under the Basic Laws of our country.

Here now follows the Dutch editor’s 5 questions and my 5 responses. Once again, I remind our readers that my responses reflected my personal opinion and were not connected to any official reactions in Israel.

According to Netanyahu this law states the basic principle of the existence of Israel. Others say it’s racist or means the death of democracy. What is your opinion on it?

1) To these questions, I offer only my personal opinions as a citizen of the State of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that the new Nation-State law states the basic principle of the existence of Israel. Thousands of Israeli Jews, like me, question the need for such a law.  Israel has no Constitution, only Basic Laws which establish the principles as defined in our May 14, 1948 Declaration of Independence. It defined Israel as the Jewish homeland, using the language of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Why then was it necessary to spend some years in bitter disputes regarding the Jewish nature of the State?.The law basically discriminates against the 21% of our Arab minority and the remaining 4% of our Christian minority in regard to Arabic.. Since the British Mandate in Palestine began in 1918, following the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish regime, three languages were established in law as the official languages of Palestine, Hebrew, Arabic and English.. The State of Israel maintained that law until now.  Arabic is no longer recognized as an official language but was given special status. Arabs are free to use Arabic in all government institutions and all courts of law.

Dr. Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Arab Joint bloc in the Knesset (Parliament) stated in the plenum that “democracy in Israel is dead.” I am not certain if the word “racist” can be applied here. I think, rather, it was a despicable act to humiliate the 21% of our Arab minority. The law now declares that Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel. Israel is now officially the Jewish nation-state committed to democratic ideals!!!

The law is very controversial — but will it effictively change daily life? Can you give examples what this law will mean for the common man?

2) There is no civil law in Israel for marriages, divorce, conversion, burial and all manner of personal status. These functions are solely in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and are entrenched into Israeli law. For non-Orthodox Jews, the new law will be a continuation of the rules by which they are forced to live. 80% of Israeli secular Jews are “enslaved” by the 20% minority of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis who are still steeped in 16th century Judaism. As far as non-Orthodox Jews, Conservative and Reform, they are not recognized by the Rabbinate nor by the government. This applies to all secular Jews both in Israel and in countries of the diaspora.  Millions of Jews living freely in other countries are prohibited, when visiting in Israel, from praying men and women together at the holy Western Wall, the only surviving remnant of the 2nd holy Temple in Jerusalem and the holiest place for Jewish worship. A group known as the Women of the Wall have been humiliated, attacked and abused by the Orthodox men praying on the other side of a blocked area designated for egalitarian worship . . Orthodox Judaism requires separation of men from women during worship. Last year, Netanyahu met with representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements and gave his solemn promise that he would establish a separate area for egalitarian worship. But when the Orthodox members of the Knesset learned of it, they threatened to resign, thereby toppling the government.  Netanyahu was forced by the Orthodox rabbinate to break his promise. This controversial new law will not, in reality, change the daily way of life of Israeli Jews. Only the Arab minority will be affected by the language change.

Do you think this law will increase conflicts and diversion between people and discrimination against minorities? Why yes/no?

3) I believe that the new Nation-State law is undemocratic (my personal opinion) in its discrimination of our non-Jewish citizens and will add to conflicts between observant and secular Jews. Only this week, a leading and beloved Conservative rabbi in the city of Haifa was awakened at 5:30 in the morning by police banging on his door. They took him into custody for interrogation, at the demand of the Chief Rabbinate, on the grounds that he performs marriages for Jews which are not recognized by the rabbinate. Thousands of voices were heard from Jewish organizations and rabbis from around the world in protest of this terrible situation. On July 19, Adam Ognall, Executive Director of the New Israel Fund (not supportive of the Israeli government) published an article in which he wrote “There is nothing wrong with being a State for the Jewish people but that cannot come at the expense of its non-Jewish citizens and other minorities. In fact, the law makes evident to all non-Jews that they are second-class citizens in the country, in particular the Arab minority”.

An American Conservative rabbi, Steven Wernick, denounced the new law and proclaimed that “Israel is no longer for ALL Jews.” There is now a growing separation between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. The Islamic Republic of Iran has its Sharia law. Now the State of Israel will be governed by Halacha law… the ancient religious laws of Judaism. The British Common law will fade out of our courts of justice and will be replaced by Orthodox Jewish law.. Our calendar will now be changed from the Gregorian to the Hebrew calendar  Israel is now experiencing a new national “revolution”, praised by many and hated by many more.

But it is imperative to decry the false claim that Israel is practicing Apartheid. Absolutely nothing can be further from the truth. Arab students are admitted and attend any one of our 8 universities, 43 colleges and 20 teacher training colleges. Some of the finest doctors and surgeons are Arabs who were graduated from our Israeli medical schools. There is an Arab Justice who sits on the bench in our Supreme Court and there are many Arab judges in the district courts. There are 16 Arabs in our Knesset. All minorities receive the same free national medical insurance and hospital care that is given to Jews. There is total equality under the law (except for the new change eliminating Arabic as one of our official languages).

What does it mean when the law says ‘the development of Jewish settlement is seen as a national value’? Does this clause also allude to settlement in the West Bank?

4) Netanyahu’s statement that the new law is “the development of Jewish settlement and is seen as a national value” is the completion and the fulfillment of the original Zionist movement. It declares that Jews can settle and build homes anywhere in the sovereign State of Israel. Many hundreds of right-wing Jewish activists have been establishing new settlements since the end of the 1967 war . Arabs have continually objected to it on grounds that it takes away Arab land on which they have lived for many generations. Regrettably there are too many frequent conflicts between the Jewish settlers and the Arab farmers, many often leading to violence and wanton destruction of Arab crops and homes by the zealous settlers. This clause in the new law is a victory for the settlement movement. 

In the Times of Israel you stated that the law will also decrease Aliyah from werstern nations. Can you elaborate on that?

5) In one of my recent 634 articles published in the TIMES OF ISRAEL I stated that the new Nation-State law will see a decrease in aliyah (immigration to Israel) by mainly non-Orthodox or secular Jews who will feel disenfranchised by the new law.  Already American, Canadian and British Jewish institutions and many dozens of leading Conservative and Reform rabbis are denouncing the new law. Many wealthy philanthropists who have supported Israel with large financial contributions over the past 70 years have now indicated that they will reduce significantly the amount of future contributions. The Nation-State law, in my personal opinion, does not look promising to the Jewish people nor to the Jewish nation of Israel.

I wonder if God Himself would approve this controversial new law!!!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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