Anti-Democratic Israel Jewish Nationality Law

Declaration of Independence

This image posted by Tzipi Livni on Facebook shows in a visual way the damage that the proposed Jewish nationality law does to the fabric of the country’s political culture. The text is from Israel’s Declaration of Independence. All reference in the Declaration to of universal principles have been, as if, struck out, violently in red ink, by the proposed Basic Law. These universal principles are the very principles upon which Israel has always prided itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” There is no place in the proposed Basic Law for “the good of all [the country’s] residents,” “freedom, justice, and peace according to the vision of the prophets of Israel,” “complete equality of rights for all citizens irrespective of religion, race, and gender,” “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”

“Everyone” is against the proposed Basic Law. That would be a significant part of the governing coalition, including the Justice Minister, probably close to half of the Knesset, the President of the country, its current Attorney General and previous Attorney Generals, blue-chip Revisionists like Reuben Rivlin, the current President of the country, and Moshe Arens, an ex-Minister of Defense. This is not to mention the Arab and Haredi parties. Abe Foxman weighing in against the law suggests that even many mainstream American Jews are deeply ambivalent, if not outright opposed to the proposed legislation. The fact that the vote for Wednesday has been postponed might indicate that the bill is already in trouble. The only thing democratic about the proposed Basic Law is the broad opposition it has solicited.

What then do we learn from this developing story about Israel or about the tension between Jewishness and democracy? Maybe it’s that politicians cannot legislate the Jewish-state idea without causing fundamental damage to the democratic principles upon which that concept depends. As a distinctly modern political formation, the Zionist idea is based on universal human values. The hierarchical approach in the proposed Basic Law with Jewishness trumping democracy is not viable. It would violate the basic tension that has defined Israel heretofore as a democratic country with a Jewish national majority. Even in a such Jewish majority state, Jewishness becomes more and more a private matter. Attempts to give the idea determinate form by settling tensions basic to the political and cultural life of the country through legislation idea only serve to undercut it.

What the Basic Law would do would be to link citizenship to nationality in ways that contradict the very principles upon which Israel was founded as a democracy, no matter how imperfectly realized. Consider for example this piece here from today’s Ynet about ideas being suggested in the government coalition as to using citizenship as a police tool with which to combat terrorism and support for terrorism, as well as combating expressions of Palestinian nationalism among Israeli Palestinians. It would comport with the Jewish nationality law even as it flies in the face of accepted norms of democratic governance according to which citizenship is inalienable bedrock.

More and more, the government of Israel insists on turning the country into something that many of us will not be able to “recognize,” not as “democratic,” and not as “Jewish.” I’m pasting below in italics [the] details about ideas concerning the anti-terrorism legislation. It’s hard to see how they could have a rightful place in a democratic polity, no matter how constituted:

Israeli Arabs caught engaging or cooperating with terror will automatically lose their citizenship – or Palestinian Authority residency, in the case of Palestinians.

After completing their prison term, terrorists will be deported from Israel.

Those killed during their attempt to conduct a terror attack will not receive a funeral.

The body of terrorists will not be transferred to their families, and will be buried in an unknown location, without ceremony and without future access for their families

Terrorists’ houses will be destroyed within 24-hours of the attack

Masked stone throwers and those inciting for terror and violence participating in illegal protests in which firebombs or fireworks were thrown will be arrested and held in remand until the completion of legal procedures against them. The same measures will be taken against those who waved an ‘enemy flag’ during the protests, including the Palestinian flag. Anyone convicted at the end of their remand will lose their social welfare benefits and driving license for a 10 year period. 

Families of terrorists will lose their citizenship and will be deported to Gaza should they express support for their relative’s deed. Support, according to the bill, can be expressed through public or social media.

The bill also includes a clause that would close businesses and printing presses that print posters that support terror or terrorists. 




About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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