The Nation Law and the State we are Becoming

The furor surrounding the recently passed Nation-State law refuses to abate. Considering that this law defines the future character of our country, and its ramifications could likely lead us to abandon many foundational principles which define us as a democracy – “the only democracy in the Middle East” – I would expect no less.

Demonstration against the Nation State Law

Last Saturday night more than 200,000 protestors converged on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, to protest the law and express their support for Israel’s most loyal minority, the Druze and Circassians, who have been left out in the cold by this law. A day later, it was revealed that a political deal was done with the Agudat Yisrael party (which for eight years refused to support this law on religious-ideological grounds), whereby, in exchange for support for this law, concessions would be made in their favor in the Israeli Draft law soon to be passed. Consider the unseemliness of such tawdry political wrangling, in passing a law which has such import in determining the nature of this country, which I love so deeply. Consider the absurdity, that the government, in its desperation to pass this law, joined hands with Jews who refuse to serve in the army, in order to pass a law which states that Israel is substantively only for Jews, and by doing so excludes an entire community whose youth proudly serve in the most active combat units in the army and whose sacrifice of fallen is way disproportionate the its size – and this by making a deal that said religious Jews would not have to serve.

As for my part, I refuse to remain silent, while my vision of Israel, for which I have served and defended and to which I have committed my destiny, is wrested from me by extremist fanatics, drunk on their power, leaving me with no choice but to feel embarrassed that this is what we have become. We are not becoming a Jewish State – we have been that for 70 years. Shockingly, I believe we are becoming a Jewish Apartheid state. And, I am not exaggerating. Read this and see why I say that.

After posting my last blog, “How do you say Apartheid in Hebrew?” I received a fair amount of flak on social media.

I have been called a Nazi anti-Semite. I have been accused of inciting the murder of Jews and Israelis by furthering Palestinian propaganda. Such knee-jerk tribally loyal reactions, without examining the facts, by blind loyalists, are to be expected. They will not deter me. This is too important.

First off, allow me to put the record straight: BDS and the Palestinians have no ownership of the term Apartheid. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word to describe a political ideology employed in South Africa. It stands for “separate development”. This ideology is far deeper and insidious that the superficial appropriation of the word by people who use it as a rhetorical epithet. If you allow the Palestinians to own the term Apartheid, not only have you awarded them a psychological victory, but you also blind yourself to processes in our own society, which you reflexively deny and refuse to identify, for fear of proving them right. In so doing, you are fulfilling their accusation and prophesy.

My use of the term Apartheid is after empirical, careful, and objective examination of the situation. Having lived for two decades in one kind of Apartheid system or another in Southern Africa, I believe I have the right to call it what it is. If I believe it is the correct term to use – and if it shocks us all into the realization of what we are becoming – then it will have achieved its goal. On the other hand, if it shuts people down, then it exposes that they are in denial and they are not prepared to face the naked truth.

Often we are witness to the self-righteous demagoguery, of posts which assert that Israel is not Apartheid, because Jews and Arabs travel on the same public transport, they can eat in the same restaurants, can shop in the same supermarkets, and Jews and Arabs lie next to one another in hospitals. They then go on to count the number of token Arab judges, high ranking officers in the police – and then the icing on the cake. Wow! An Arab beauty queen! How can this be Apartheid?

Sorry, but you are mistaken. By enumerating these examples, you are concentrating on the manifestations of what was Apartheid. However, the evil and cruelty of Apartheid was not in the manifestations, but in the CONCEPT – that one kind of people is more worthy than another, and therefore more deserving than another, simply by virtue of them being White. Therefore, each race and culture should have its own “separate development”. We should remember that the Holocaust was called by the Nazis the Final Solution, and the Final Solution was the manifestation of the nefarious ideology that one race is superior, more worthy than another. It was the CONCEPT of Aryan superiority which put in motion all that was to follow.

It was the same with Apartheid. The concept of white people being a superior race and more developed, is what justified the system which first disenfranchised and then discriminated against people who were not white – all the way to the petty level of the complete separation of services and amenities, with a distinct preference in the quality of those amenities, based upon the perceived superiority of the concept. The manifestation followed on from the concept. And it was not immediate. It happened over a period of time. This concept of Whites being superior was prevalent for decades, before it was enacted into law.

Now, if we look at the Nation-State law and change the word “White” for “Jews”, in terms of the CONCEPT, what is the difference to the ideology which was enacted into law in South Africa in 1960? We already have members of the Knesset who publicly and unashamedly express their belief in Jewish Superiority; MK Miki Zohar on June 13th this year said, “The Jewish race” is the smartest in the world and possessing of the “highest human capital”. MK Oren Hazan, on August 7th this year said, that Africans have no culture and should be stopped having children. Who else thinks this, but dare not say so out loud? Not Miri Regev, “Culture Minister”. She called Somali refugees “a cancer”. It should be noted that these politicians were elected according to a primary system. That means they represent a public which agree with them, and they are the majority party. So, let us not fool ourselves; these people are not embarrassing exceptions, they express the views of the public that elected them. So, there is a glaring similarity on the conceptual level between what led to Apartheid in South Africa, and what led to the Nation-State law in Israel.

There is another thing to remember: all these examples of denial of the existence of Apartheid in Israel, are judging Israel PRIOR to the passing of the nation-state law. Once this law was passed and was written as a basic law (equivalent to constitution) in Israel’s law books, it cannot describe anymore what will be. Just what was. The passing of this law changes all that. It may take time for these changes to become identifiable, but over time, it will happen. Again, history repeats itself, because people expect for it to be exactly like it happened before, a carbon copy. That’s not how it works. People learn from others’ mistakes, and situations mutate. The more you refuse to identify the processes and say “we’re not there yet”, because this or that hasn’t happened yet, the more you will be surprised when one day you wake up and find yourself living in a repetition of that reality, which you never believed would happen.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence

Now, there are a lot of clauses in the Nation-State bill, which do enjoy consensus; no-one who is a Zionist will argue with Clauses 1A and 1B of the law, which states that: ” A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”

Very few people will have a problem with clause 2, which talks about the symbols of the state, or Clause 3 which states that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Clauses 5 and 6, which talks of the ingathering of exiles and Israel’s connection to Jewish communities in the diaspora are perfectly acceptable to me, and I wager virtually all Jews I know, even Left wing Jews. Clause 9, which speaks about memorial days and Independence Day states the obvious. Nobody will object to that.

The problem is that it was unnecessary to toil for eight years over a law of this nature, in order to write these clauses into law. They state what is widely recognized by virtually all Israelis and the international community as obvious.

What is objectionable about this bill is that the architects, with devious design, cynically use these clauses to camouflage the three clauses which turn it into a document of racial bias. They provide defenders of this bill with deflectable deniability. “What is so wrong with stating that Israel is the Nation-State for Jews, or that Hatikva is its national anthem?” they decry while batting innocent doe eyes, while they know that those are not the clauses which define the true nature of the law. Let us be clear; if the motive of the law was to state the obvious expressed in the clauses mentioned above, it would have taken about five minutes to draft it, and maybe another ten to pass it in all three readings. The reason it took eight years is precisely because of the three clauses which those who defend it secretly condone and studiously ignore, and which they know deep down is publicly unacceptable to pronounce.

Clause 1C. “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” What is national self-determination? The universal understanding of the term “national self-determination”, is the inalienable right for a country to determine its nature and its future, its destiny. It is NOT ethno-specific. If the clause had said “Israel has the unique right to exercise its national self-determination within the borders of the State”, I would not have a problem with it. But, it doesn’t. By saying it is “unique to the Jews”, it is not national self-determination, but national-religious self-determination, which is exclusive of those Israelis who are not Jewish. It is the exact difference between Israel being the nation-state for Jews, and it being the nation state ONLY for Jews.

Therefore, what is the status of non-Jewish Israeli citizens? Are they Israeli’s or Israeli but “not really”? “Lesser Israelis”? Citizens, but not full citizens? What is the meaning of them having “full individual rights”? How can you be an equal citizen, if you cannot fully express your citizenship? If some Israelis have full rights, including the right to determine the nature of the country they belong to, and others only have “individual rights”, but are precluded determining the country’s character, then they are not equal citizens, but second class citizens, looked upon as interlocutors. Tolerated, but not fully accepted. There is a name for a political system which institutionalizes by law inequality among its citizens. Apartheid.

According to this law, a non-Jew cannot become Prime Minister. If the Arabs and non-Jews in Israel become majority, can they form a government and determine the country’s direction? No, they can’t. Not because it is inconceivable, but because there is now a law which prevents this.

Clause 7. Jewish settlement. “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” This clause is right out of the Apartheid textbook. It states that Jewish settlements have preference over non-Jewish settlement. Further, it states that the State will ACT to encourage and promote the establishment of Jewish settlements and their consolidation. The country’s budget is finite. By this law, the State now can build a budget where it funds Jewish settlements, by virtue of them being Jewish settlements, more than Arab or Druze settlements. That is Apartheid. Now, I know, people are going to say that this is the situation in Israel today already and has been for a long time. Perhaps. But, that is the difference between government policy, which is immediately reversible if the government changes or if it decides to change policy, and a law – a BASIC law – which immortalizes this situation, and defines the nature of the COUNTRY, not the government. To repeal a basic law, it is necessary for there to be a long, arduous parliamentary process, and you need a special majority to do so. The minute this biased, preferential treatment of Jewish settlements (that includes all kinds of settlements, by the way, even cities) is in the country’s constitution and not government policy, you have SEPARATE DEVELOPMENT based on the ethnic identity of the country’s citizens, and that, people is Apartheid.

In April of this year, residents of Afula protested housing tenders in the city, because they were won by Arabs, petitioning the court to cancel the tender. It was determined that there was price fixing, but that was not what Jewish Afula residents were protesting. They were protesting the fact that Arabs were going to build their homes in Afula. They chanted “Afula is in danger” and “Afula is Jewish”. From now on, clause 7 of this law provides legal reference and basis to prevent Arabs from buying property in Jewish settlements. Remember also that the initial wording of this clause was ““The state may allow a community, including members of one religion or of one nationality, to maintain a separate communal settlement.” Realizing that they had overstepped the boundary, they changed the wording, couching the spirit of the original clause in euphemisms. You cannot separate the resultant wording from the spirit of the intentional wording. It can still be interpreted the way the original clause was intended to be. However, even more than that: the intent of the drafters of this law was made clear, and their intent was to institute by law separate residential areas for separate ethnic-religious groups. That is Apartheid.

Then we have clause 4, Language. If Arabic had not previously been an official language, this clause would have been innocuous. However, that is not the case. It was an official language and now it has been relegated to a level of lesser recognition some amorphous definition of “special status”. What was the intent here? They could have left it untouched. But no, they had to make sure the insult was understood. The intent was clear: We Jews are superior. Our language has preference. Your language is of inferior status now. This intentional stubbornness to institutionalize inequality down to the most mundane detail of language, is indicative of the ideology of racial inequality they want in Israel. It is the concept of entrenched inequality and preference for Jewish Israelis. That is just like Apartheid, which dismissed the African languages spoken by South African Blacks.

Now, let’s talk about “special status”. That is also the status which Netanyahu offered the Druze leadership during the negotiations that were held. Not equal, but “special status”. But also, conditional “special status” – and conditional upon them serving in the army. In other words, paying them for putting their lives on the line for Israel. Making them mercenaries. Nice. This too, proves that the Nation-State law was intended all along, not only to cement the Jewish nature of the country, but to cement the privileged status of Jews in Israel, above that of Israel’s other citizens.

When the law entrenches privilege based on ethnic identity, and determines that all others are of a lesser status;
When it determines by law that only one ethnic group can enjoy full civic rights, and precludes others from being able to be an intrinsic part of the country’s identity and a full participant in the national destiny of the country of which they are citizens;
When it becomes law that preference is given to one ethnic group’s development over others’ and allows space to ensure substantial residential separation of the different populations;
When you have all that, if you don’t have Apartheid, then you are well on the way to getting there.

Wake up!

About the Author
Paul Mirbach made aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz transforming rocks and mud to a green oasis in the Gallilee. He served in infantry during his army service, serving in both Lebanon and the West Bank, including on reserve duty during the first intifada. Paul still lives on Tuval with his wife and two sons.
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