politics to go

Israel declares itself a Jewish state. So what?


Zionism: A political movement, to establish a political and geographic nation-state for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed the 15th Basic Law. This “Nation-State Law” recognized Israel as the fulfillment of the Zionist dream declaring that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and “the actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” In Israel, which has no constitution, Basic Laws have the same power as the constitution in America.

The Nation State law, in development for seven years, says Hebrew is Israel’s official language, but Arabic has special status. Saturdays and Jewish holidays are the official days of rest, but people of other faiths will be allowed to observe their own. The law reaffirmed that freedoms are guaranteed to all Israelis, no matter their faith. It affirms that an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and asserts that Jewish settlement, without specifying where, is a national value, and promises to encourage and advance settlement efforts. Finally, it indicates that Israel will work to ensure the safety of Jews all across the Diaspora, as well as their historical and cultural heritage.

This law does not supersede the Israeli declaration of independence, which says that Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.” Those rights were reaffirmed in 1992 with the Human Dignity and Liberty Basic Law, which says, “Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free; these rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.”

Despite the guarantee of rights already established in the Declaration of Independence and Basic Law, progressive politics-first Jewish groups claimed the law would somehow make Israel less democratic, especially the provision making Hebrew the official language of Israel. Their objections ignore the law’s explicit statement that “this clause does not change the status given to the Arabic language before the Basic Law was created.”

As reported in Gulf News, “Palestinian MK Ahmad Tibi tweeted: ‘The end of democracy and the official beginning of fascism and apartheid. A black day’.”

The self-determination part of the law is not different from those of other countries in the western world.

The UN created Israel as a Jewish State. UN Resolution 181, the partition plan, called for independent Jewish and Arab states; thus this nation-state law is the actualization of that resolution. For the first seventy years of its existence, it was assumed that Israel was the nation-state of the Jews. This law puts it in writing.

An essential part of the bill is the section on the Diaspora, which professes that Israel is tied to the Jewish community outside the Jewish State and should protect its people and heritage there. To be frank, this is not only an obligation of Israel but Jews everywhere.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined in a speech before the U.S. Congress in 2011, the year in which the Knesset started working on the law: “All six Israeli Prime Ministers since the signing of Oslo accords agreed to establish a Palestinian state. Myself included. So why has peace not been achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it … You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. This is what this conflict is about … They were simply unwilling to end the conflict. …

“They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees. My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said, ‘I will accept a Palestinian state.’ It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state’.”

Even when it has said that Israel has a right to exist, Palestinian leadership has always refused to recognize it as the nation-state of the Jews. Previous American governments have refused to push the issue. Now that Israel has put it in writing and included it in its Basic Law, it is clear to both friends and adversaries that any peace must include a recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.