The Israel nationality law

Israel’s cabinet is embroiled over the proposed nationality bill that would raise the Jewish, democratic ethos, mentioned in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, into a Basic Law, which is Israel’s version of a constitution. Not only are many Israelis, and especially Arabs, fearful that their status will be downgraded, others are afraid that Judaism will take over the state. Adding to the tension is the onslaught of criticism from international capitals.

We know that Israel is always under the microscope, but this near-hysteria is puzzling. Israel is the State of the Jewish people, as acknowledged by nearly everyone except Muslims and anti-Zionists. The “Jewishness” of Israel is the very essence of the dispute with the Palestinians. The nationality bill has been proposed because the Arabs and most Muslims steadfastly refuse to acknowledge Israel’s Jewish ethos. Therefore it must be emphasized strongly.

The “state of Palestine,” which has been embraced by the majority of the world’s nations (Spain is the latest) is unabashedly the “homeland of the Palestinian (Muslim) people.” Palestine declares itself to be judenrein and therefore, by definition, it is racist. Israel seeks no such racist or apartheid status, proclaiming that its many minorities have all the same civil rights as the majority Jews.

Non-Jews, however, lack the “national rights” which pertain to Jews in the one and only Jewish state, as stipulated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was wholly adopted by the League of Nations and later the United Nations. It declares: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” As is made clear, Jews enjoy national, civil, and religious rights in their national home, Israel, while non-Jewish citizens enjoy civil and religious rights, but not national ones. (In other words, Israel will always remain a Jewish state.)

Are there self-proclaimed Muslim-Arab, democratic and non-democratic states, where non-Muslims lack national, civil and religious rights? Sure, there are many: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Arab Republic of Egypt, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. In all of these countries, human rights do not come close to meeting Western ideals.

So why is the notion that a Jewish state, whose minorities enjoy human, civil, and religious rights so offensive? Isn’t part of America’s and other nations’ formula, “a Jewish and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace?” The brouhaha of Israel’s Jewish status, I’m sorry to say, is overt and hypocritical. Israel is the “Jew” of all the nations, forever stigmatized and vilified, despite its status as a dual progenitor, along with Ancient Greece, of the modern, democratic Western state.

Because Israel has no constitution, it gradually has derived a system of Basic Laws stemming from its Declaration of Independence. These Basic Laws are used by Israel’s extremely powerful Supreme Court to justify their rulings, similar to the way the Constitution is used by America’s Supreme Court. Because of the current lack of Israel’s Jewish ethos among the Basic Laws, many Israelis feel that many of the court’s rulings ignore the very identity of Israel as, first and foremost, the national home of the Jews.

For example, without Israel’s Jewishness being anchored in the Basic Law, the ultra-liberal Supreme Court could allow a Knesset majority to include Arabs and other minorities in Israel’s Right of Return, perhaps eventually turning Israel into a majority Muslim state.

Many liberals, Israeli and others, fear that the democratic underpinnings of the state will be secondary if Israel’s Jewishness is made more blatant – not true. For example, the United Kingdom is an Anglican state, with the monarch the titular head of the Church of England. Does that fact make the UK undemocratic? Of course not. The law of the land is not religious.

The same applies to Israel. It should be noted, however, that Israel’s Declaration of Independence does not emphasize democracy, or even mention the word. It does “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” and guarantees its Arab citizens “full and equal citizenship.” It also “places its trust in the ‘Rock of Israel.’”

Israel’s primary problem with the Arabs is not over land. Israel’s territory is only a minuscule percentage of “Arabia,” about a quarter of one per cent. The most important issue is to convince Israel’s closest enemy (also known as its negotiating partner) to come to grips with the incontrovertible fact that Israel is the Jewish state and is here to stay. Otherwise, negotiations are useless. That this recognition has never been forthcoming is the absolute crux of the problem. Without this catalyst, Israelis can’t even think about allowing a Palestinian state to emerge adjacent to it (other than in the imagination of most of the world’s countries).

Israel will not come to terms with a people that denies its Jewish existence and wishes to usurp its territory and its holiest places. Nor will Israel be prevented from establishing its own laws in furtherance of its Jewish and democratic ethos. The world must learn to “get over” the Jews, and by extension, Israel. Israel is a modern miracle, a civilization that has existed for thousands of years and a people that live in their homeland.

If the West continues down its path of being overtaken by Islam (take a realistic look at what’s happening in Western Europe) it faces destruction. Israel is the forerunner and cradle of Western values, not a pesky nation to be continuously chastised, or worse. If Israel makes its Jewishness a part of its Basic Laws, it strengthens itself and the West, even if the West doesn’t realize it.

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.