Try as one might on a vacation, it is hard to really avoid the world of politics. I was out of Israel when the “Nation State Basic Law” was passed by the Knesset on July 18-19, 2018. I first became aware of it when I read the statement written by Sheila Gewolb, the senior Vice President of the British Board of Deputies. In her letter which was intended to reflect the conclusions of this UK Jewish leadership body, she whined about “The Nation State law” not being “inclusive enough” -and hence not to their liking. After living in the UK for about 14 years I became familiar with the Board of Deputies as a body comprised of one representative from each synagogue (possibly from major Jewish Organizations as well), who met once in a while to make a statement on issues affecting British Jewry. In regards to Israel they were always weak and slightly apologetic. Now that they are concerned about the overt increase of anti-Semitism in the UK, they appear to be making slightly stronger statements than in the past. Bottom-line- they are still of the illusion that they are British first and Jewish second, and wish to curry favor with their non-Jewish neighbors. Ms. Gewold’s statement that “Being Jewish is a wonderful thing, but this should not lead to the ‘doing down’ of others” made it quite clear that she either a) did not actually read the law or b) is apologetic that Jews have affirmed their right to their own State.
Unfortunately for Jews in the U.K.- times have changed dramatically, and they are now fighting obvious prejudice on all fronts. What was once hidden behind closed doors is now public knowledge. Weak apologies from Board of Deputies about Israel’s lack of inclusivity are absurd at best. Their comment that they would be taking up the issue with Israel’s Ambassador was typical British pandering. Do they actually believe that they will be respected more if they criticize Israel, than if they support her? Do they really believe that the British Muslim Arabs who hold their Nakba Day celebrations in the center of London and hold counter demonstrations to every Jewish event, are the least bit appeased by such insipid behavior?
After reading the published “Nation State-basic law” which was affirmed by the Knesset, I did not immediately understand what all the fuss was about. It quite clearly states what everyone in the State of Israel already knew, but what the rest of the world would like to forget: That Israel is a Jewish State, that her purpose is to be a homeland for all Jews who wish to live there, that her language is Hebrew and that her calendar and national holidays will be based on Jewish traditions. Much was left out of the “basic law” quite simply because had it been more complex, it probably would not have had sufficient votes to be approved. There are a multitude of other basic laws which expand on each of these statements.
One of Israel’s Achilles’ heels has been her lack of a national written constitution. The country has developed a legal system based on precedent and certain agreed upon concepts…but it needed a clear statement for the world to read.
Perhaps the timing of this vote is a reaction to the constant assault not only by the United Nations but also from Europe which wishes to ignore Israel’s right to make her own choices for her own people. The European Union has not been helpful in bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table. No European nation has demanded any compromises from the Palestinian side of the table to move a “peace process” forward. Perhaps this was because they were under the illusion that Israel’s existence was negotiable. It is not.
What I did not anticipate, was the misunderstanding of the document by those I discovered know very little about the real Israel and its values. I did not expect to be told that others perceived the law to say that : 1) no language other than Hebrew would be allowed , or that 2) No religion other than Judaism would be tolerated. This is the impression of some who miss the point of the law entirely. Not living there, they would have no idea that all important documents are in both Hebrew and Arabic. Road signs are written in Hebrew, English and Arabic. And all medical facilities and treatment is offered in multiple languages- Arabic being available at all times. And that does not address how many documents are also in Russian, English and French as well. Concluding negatives from a positive statement of core principles is completely invalid and yet media pundits globally have been happy to do just that. Readers are being misled by biased media personalities.
In an age when the world at large demands that Israel be a Democracy giving equal rights to everyone…rather than exist as a Jewish State which protects its own people – the time had come to make Israel’s purpose crystal clear. Many of us thought it was unnecessary, but we were wrong. Consider for a moment all the Arab States of the Middle East. They all have Arabic as their only national language. They not only have Islam as their religion, but do not allow other religions to practice in their land. Those nations have expelled Jews (and Christians) from their lands repeatedly and have not been held to account. Israel does not expel its residents of other faiths. It allows them to worship in their own fashion and the nation protects the holy places of both Christians and Muslims, along with their own. There is no parallel in the Arab nations and yet that is quite acceptable to the world at large, which choses to judge Israel’s very right to self-definition and self-determination.
The simple wording of the Nation State law is part of the problem. It purposely does not define the rights of minorities in the land, but neither does it say that they are without them. These laws already exist in additional tomes of the Israeli judiciary. These rights will not be made null and void by the new document. Only those who wish Israel ill will say otherwise.
This new document was simply a clarion call to remind the world that Israel will decide her own national capital, her own language, which holidays will be observed by the entire country, what her flag will look like, what her national symbols will be, and her very purpose for existence.
It was perhaps inevitable that non-Jews would read the “Nation State-basic law” and feel that it essentially was written to exclude them from having any rights in the State. That was clearly not its intent or how it will be applied. It is much more disturbing when fellow Jews are apologetic and full of condemnation. Should a time come when those same Jews need to flee their own lands, they will be comforted to know that the land of Israel will be waiting for them with outstretched arms and a warm embrace. The rest of the world will find that they too are welcome to visit the one land which protects their holy sites as it does its own.
It was time to re-define the essence of the Jewish State, but even this law as it is written allows for future change should the Knesset find it necessary to do so.
The only people who appear to be disappointed by the passing of the “Nation State
`Basic Law” are those who do not understand why the State of Israel was brought into existence, and what core standards are required for its survival. Passing this “Nation State” law was not a mistake – it was a necessity.