What does the Jewish state bill give the Jews?

Another bill, another controversy. Now it’s the turn of the attempt by Netanyahu to pass a Basic Law formally defining Israel as a Jewish country.

This latest epic PR fail is already a disaster regardless of what happens in the final vote. All over the world and at home this bill is being pushed as anti-democratic. Of course the White House has waded in. It seems that every time an Israeli parliamentarian sneezes the White House needs to wade in with some kind of a warning.

That said, the question at hand is what it is that Israelis are going to get if/when this bill becomes law. The answer seems to range between absolutely nothing and very little indeed. Netanyahu has stressed that the bill will essentially reinforce Israel’s Jewish character in law.

Israel is the national home of the Jewish people where there are equal rights for every citizen. “But there are national rights only for the Jewish people; a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel, and other national symbols,”

Jews already have the right to make aliyah, a flag that represents them, the national anthem and these other national symbols. So this law isn’t actually giving us anything that we don’t already have, it is simply enshrining these things in the closest thing Israel has to a constitution; the Basic Laws.

And here lies all of the controversy. According to Haviv Rettig Gur, the bill was inspired by several reports coming from the Israeli Arab community pushing for national self determination for Israeli Arab citizens. This bill serves as Israel’s response to these efforts.

The timing of this strikes me as bizarre as it is something that no one has been agitating for. Israelis are demonstrating for economic changes regarding food and property prices. Perhaps this is merely another example of the Knesset being out of sync with the Israeli people?

There is no denial of the fact that the things this bill wish to enshrine in the country’s basic laws are already enshrined in the country itself. Regardless of whether they are in the basic laws or not demography is going to decide this issue. If there are very few Jews living here in 300 years regardless of whether the flag and national anthem are enshrined in law it’s not going to matter if the populace decides to change them. The opposite is also true, so long as Jews are the majority I can’t see what we have changing.

And if it does change by democratic decree then so be it.

I fear that this bill may well have the opposite effect to the one intended. It may not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back but it will certainly be an extra weight that the camel has to bear. It could simply galvanise Israeli Arabs into demanding that they be allowed to bear their own flag and sing their own anthem. The precise result this bill is being put to the Knesset to stop.

As a Jewish Israeli this bill doesn’t give me anything I don’t already have and caters to a fear that doesn’t bother me. It does however serve as a slap in the face to Israeli Arabs attempting to integrate into Israeli society. An extra little reminder from the government that they’re not wanted in the modern state of Israel. It’s a shame. Particularly at a time when Israeli Arabs actually seem to be coming more into the fold. With one in four Israeli Arabs celebrating Israel’s Independence Day according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

I don’t doubt that the rights of minorities in Israel will be unaffected by this law but it really feels like the government is simply telling all non-Jews to remember that this country isn’t about them. At the same time it gives Jewish Israelis absolutely nothing that we don’t already have. I’d prefer that the government get on with something useful like providing us with a full constitution that defines for all citizens precisely what they’re rights are. Judging from the way this bill is going I won’t hold my breath.



About the Author
Marc Goldberg is the author of Beyond the Green Line, a story his service in the IDF fighting through the al Aqsa Intifada