Controversy over the newly passed nation-state law is so fiery it might only add insult to injury if outsiders try to say something about it.
The Jewish state has defined itself as Jewish state since its birth. Moreover, the desired homeland for Jews was defined a Jewish state by Zionists long before the Israeli Declaration of Independence. At that time no one knew, what it means that a state would be Jewish by definition.
To different individuals, the meaning of the concept of a Jewish state surely varies. What is the nature of the state, which is about diamonds, medicine, gay culture, praying, law, wine, bread, and high-tech?
To us non-Jews, it can be difficult to understand, what the word ‘Jewish’ means in the first place. Hence, speaking about Judaism has become a very tricky game. Among Israel-haters, this game is known as a common claim, “I am not an anti-Semite but an anti-Zionist.” Players of this game insist they do not hate Jews; they just seek to annihilate the Jewish state in favor of the so-called one-state solution. They frame Judaism into a strictly spiritual matter with no relation to anybody’s sociological, ethnic or national background.
After the nation-state law was passed, some Arab members of the Knesset declared it was “apartheid.” To them, the law indicated ethnic supremacy. Hence, to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism, they probably would answer that the law is essentially Zionist and has nothing to do with “real Judaism.” When earlier this year Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tried denouncing his alleged anti-Semitism, he stressed he never intended to hurt “religious Jews.”
What I believe, the nation-state law sets new rules to this old game played by Islamists and BDS supporters. From now on, Judaism is linked to Israel by law. Thus, in its own way, the law is a response to our world’s most common forms of anti-Semitism, namely that of demonization and delegitimization of Israel. Of course, one might dispute over whether political answers satisfy religious questions, but from now on, it is much harder for haters to be “not anti-Semite but anti-Zionist.” There is, however, nothing to stop the incurable haters, for we have already seen so many times anti-Semitic Internet memes with captions telling how “Israelis do whatever they want to do because they believe they are the chosen people.” In the best case, however, there might be growing awareness of the new anti-Semitism.
In this respect, it is somewhat amazing that mainstream protestant churches live as if they had never heard of new anti-Semitism. To many Christians, the Jewish state still seems to be a hard meal to digest. About two weeks after the law was passed in the Knesset, the World Council of Churches released a statement, which expressed a “deep concern” about the issue. The WCC quoted number of high-ranking churchmen, among whom was Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). According to Azar the nation-state law is “fundamentally divisive, racist, and destructive.”
Azar is of Lebanese origin who earlier this year gave an interview to Finnish magazine called Seura (“Company”). In the article, he stated the one-state solution sounds good, but it cannot come into reality so long as “Israel wants to be a Jewish state,” for “it does not accept Arabs.”
Then, the WCC statement mentioned the Latin Patriarchate, which operates under Vatican. The current bishop of the patriarchate is William Shomali who said in 2012, “In Israeli schools, love for the other is not taught, but rather the destruction of the other.” Some people might remember the former bishop of the patriarchate, Michel Sabbah, who once declared Hamas protects Christians.
Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit himself stressed, “This is about the Holy land and holy places of three religions. Jerusalem must be a shared one. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the other. Jerusalem is, and must continue to be, a city of three religions and two peoples.”
Tveit failed to mention that it is Jordanian waqf, which controls the Temple Mount and thus makes it practically impossible for Jews to visit the site. Do not blame me, if anyone thinks the WCC does not operate on a neutral ground.
Now, I would like to return to the question of Judaism and the Jewish state from a historical angle.
One might think the existence of the state of Israel is based on the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan. However, this is not the case. The United Nations’ General Assembly resolution 181 has no binding power as it was passed under the chapter VI of the UN charter. The borders defined in the resolution are a mere suggestion.
Israel’s right to independent existence, on the contrary, is based on the same International Law that at the same time made plans for several Arab states’ future independency. This happened in San Remo convention 28 years before the declaration of Israel’s independence. San Remo convention is binding International Law, and to my understanding, it is still accurate. What is important here, the San Remo paper talks about a Jewish state explicitly. Would not this mean that at least in theory, the new Israeli nation-state law is in full coherence with the International Law?
Some people, among them Professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz , however, seem to think the timing was bad, and, in Dershowitz’s own words, the law was “unnecessarily provocative.” For Dershowitz, the real problem with the nation-state law is that it makes it more difficult to defend Israel. But if the problem is about the public relations, is it serious? To be honest, I do not see how the Jewish state’s public image could get any worse than what it has been for the past five decades. This is mainly because of the constant spread of blood libels. Hence, as I mentioned above, I believe that partly the law is an answer to the growing anti-Semitism around the globe.
In fact, I see the new nation-state law as an unavoidable reaction to the recent UNESCO resolutions, which seek to replace Jewish history by alternative history and alternative facts. Moreover, I see the new law as a legal way to set limits to certain self-destructive powers within Israeli civil society, and the Knesset itself. Imagine there would be members of the Swedish parliament, who would seek to make laws to annihilate Sweden. In Israel, several Arab MK’s have history of activities, which endanger the country’s integrity, and therefore, something had to be done. This is the case also among the Jewish far left in Israel, for some of them have gotten involved in the BDS.
In this respect, I really hope the government shall find a lasting agreement with the Druze community, for to me it really looks like the Druze are more loyal to the Jewish state than the BDS linked Jewish far left. I am also aware there are many Israeli Arabs who are amazingly loyal to the state. I am not denying there are problems within the Israeli society. There are huge challenges in every human society.
At this point, talking about apartheid seems inaccurate. In Israel, there are Muslim Sharia courts under the Ministry of Justice. However, I wonder if in the future Palestinian state there will be a rabbinate participating in social life. On the contrary, the day the world possibly will see the newly established Palestinian state, I am afraid there will remain no Jewish citizens in that country. I wonder if on that day, the World Council of Churches will issue a statement with the usual phrases of “deep concerns.”