There’s been much uproar about the recently passed law in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) regarding Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Left-wing Diaspora Jews lament what they believe to be the decline of Israeli democracy. Opposition parties in the Knesset state that the bill is borderline discriminatory and that the Israeli Independence Declaration is sufficient. Arab opponents of the bill and their sympathizers state that it is Israel’s way of “declaring itself an apartheid state” in front of the whole world.
The fact of the matter is that none of these things are true. The bill is little more than a formalization of what the world has long known — Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people, though this doesn’t mean that minorities have no rights. While downgrading the status of Arabic in some way was unnecessary, not strategic, and a thumb-in-the-eye to Palestinians and Arab-Israelis, it has little to no effect on the importance and prevalence of the Arabic language in Israel. The importance of the bill was to nip in the bud any thoughts for calls of a binational state or right of return of Palestinian “refugees”. In fact, if the Palestinians should be upset at anyone for the passage of the law, they should be mad at themselves. It is doubtful that the bill would have received so much urgent attention by the Knesset were it not for the Gaza riots in the past few months, rocket attacks emanating out of there, and the increasing media call by the “Arab Left” for Palestinians to “abolish the two-state solution” and destroy Israel as a Jewish state. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, decided to circumvent this move and cement his nationalist credentials among his base by pushing forward the vote before the summer recess. As usual, the Palestinians are digging their own graves.
Rather than accepting that time is not on their side, the leadership in Gaza City and Ramallah has instead begun to ignore any possible US peace plan in favor of useless boycotts of the US Administration, violence on the Gaza border, and failed international initiatives that have gotten the Palestinians no closer to independence than they were during Oslo. Aid to the Palestinians has declined and continues to do so, while the Arab World looks the other way, too focused on internal troubles and Iran. Rather than decrying the passage of a bill that doesn’t actually change anything on the ground, the Palestinians, United Nations, and European Union should decide to work in tandem with Israel and the United States on a plan for peace in the holy land. Even if there are disagreements with the Trump Peace Plan — the “Deal of the Century” — it is better for the Palestinian people to negotiate and have dialogue rather than continue to fan the flames of racist incitement and allow themselves to be isolated.
Meanwhile, friends of Israel would be better off protesting not the entirety of the nation-state bill, but certain troubling aspects of it. For one, the removal of Arabic as an official language. While this doesn’t officially change the status of the language itself, it is disrespectful and cause to incitement, and harms Israel’s international image. Moreover, it is unnecessary. It is already quite clear that Hebrew is the dominant language in Israel, and while Arabic is second, it is a distant second at that. Secondly, the pro-Israel crowd in the Diaspora should be coming out more forcefully in particular against the recent gay surrogacy ruling and Netanyahu’s alliance with the religious right in general. It is this alignment with radical religious figures, more than anything else, that creates issues between the Israeli government and the Jewish Diaspora. For example, consider the religious parties’ role in delaying the immigration of African Jews, of delaying the implementation of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, or the hoops through which ordinary Israelis and non-Orthodox Jews must jump to get married or practice their traditions as they please. If this doesn’t soon start to change, Israel may end up looking more like Erdogan’s Turkey than the liberal socialist haven which captured the imagination of progressives in the mid-20th century. As far as the European Union goes with its criticism of the passed law, they are just showing their true anti-Semitic colors. When numerous members of its own bloc have clear nation-state type laws or stances, it has no right to criticize a sovereign country from implementing the same law — especially when it is already common knowledge. Moreover, the EU’s criticism only fans confusion and opposition in Israel. Due to the bad blood between the Jewish people and many European countries that persecuted us, the EU is already held in low esteem throughout Israel. However, if the EU’s own stated goal is for a two-state solution — a Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine — why would it come out against the passage of this law? By doing so, it undermines its own interests and standing in the region.
In the end, this law doesn’t change anything on the ground, although the greater political and societal trends that led to its passage are sometimes cause for concern. Still, it seems that widespread outrage over this law’s passage is much ado about nothing.