There have been many comments, mostly unfavorable, on the new Nation-State Law. This Basic Law specifies that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People. The Law states that the Hebrew language is the official language of the state of Israel, but Arabic is given special status. The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state of Israel, and Hebrew law should be taken into consideration by the legislature for future laws. But it provides for ethnic communities where every citizen can preserve their culture and heritage.
Although the law is largely symbolic, it has been met with worldwide condemnation. I would like to remind the law’s detractors that Israel, with or without the new law, gives equal rights to all its citizens.
This is in sharp distinction to another well-known democracy, The United States of America, which maintains two classes of citizen. One class is afforded all the rights and privileges of full citizenship, the other lacks full access to the American dream. It is sad that many Americans, Jews among them, see fit to throw stones at Israel while living in a glasshouse.
Let us take a look a some of Israel’s presidents. Chaim Herzog was born in Belfast. Moshe Katsav was born Musa Qassab in Yazd, Iran. Shimon Peres was born Szymon Perski in Wiszniew, Poland. All these presidents were born outside of Israel – they were all immigrants. But David Ben-Gurion, as chairman of the Jewish Agency, pledged full equality to all Israel’s citizens. On the eve of the UN vote for the partition plan in the fall of 1947, he declared “Any citizen – Jew, Arab or other – can be elected president of the state”. ‘Any citizen’ means just that – anyone, no matter where they were born, who has been awarded Israeli citizenship.
In the US, however, there is no such equality. The United States Constitution is clear, only natural-born citizens of the United States are eligible to hold the office of President or Vice President. Immigrants, even if they arrived as a week-old baby, need not apply. One famous immigrant was Henry Kissinger, who became Secretary of State and National Security Advisor for both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He won the Nobel Prize, but could not reach the presidency even though he was only 15 when he became an American citizen.
While we are speaking of presidents, let us not forget the case of Moshe Katsav, Israel’s eighth president. In March 2009, Katsav, on trial for rape and other sexual offenses in the Tel Aviv District Court, faced a panel of three judges. Under the Presiding Judge, George Karra, an Israeli Arab, Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison. The President of Israel sent to prison by an Israel Arab. I can’t think of a better example of equal rights for all citizens.
Around the world, human rights are of major concern, except for Jewish rights. This inequality can often be seen in sport. In 2013, after the Belgian Tennis Association turned down Israel’s request to postpone a game against the Belgium national team in Antwerp on Yom Kippur, the International Tennis Federation, intervened and changed the date by just one day while fining the Israeli team more than $13,000.
Dudi Sela, Israel’s # 1 tennis player, was forced to quit his quarter-final match in the third set of the 2017 Shenzhen Open after his request that the match be brought forward to allow him to begin observing Yom Kippur as the sun set was refused.
In the United Kingdom there is no need of a Nation-State Law to specify the country’s religion. The official religion of England is Christianity, as practised by the Anglican Church of England. The national flag of Great Britain leaves no room for doubt. It consists of no less than three Christian crosses – the Cross of Saint George (patron saint of England), the Cross of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland) and the Cross of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland). There is no sign of symbols representing the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Moslems not even the Jews.
There is no need of a Nation-State Law to specify the country’s language. The official language of England is English. Other religions and languages are tolerated, but there is no doubt as to the nature of the state. It is telling that the Queen holds the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ and not ‘Defender of Faiths’. There is no need of a Nation-State Law to specify the country’s official holidays. The only official holidays are Christian festivals, Good Friday, Easter, Christmas Day or the so-called ‘bank holidays’.
Although Jewish settlement in England can be traced as far back as the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, Yom Kippur is not an official holiday in the United Kingdom. It is up to employers to grant their Jewish workers time off for Yom Kippur if they see fit. There is no legal requirement to do so, and we hear of many cases where they don’t.
So, next time you pick up a stone, take a good look at your own house before you throw it at Israel.