The Jewish Republic of Israel (Ethno-Nation State Law)

jewish nation state

Everyone knows that Israel is the Jewish State. About that there was no serious doubt if by Jewish state one means a country with a Jewish majority culture. But is it a democracy? Is it now, formally, a racist, ethno-national state, cruel and vindictive? And what about the country and its culture?

You can read here the full text of the Jewish Ethno-Nation State bill recently passed by the Knesset in a razor-thin majority. It undermines democracy in Israel, subordinates democracy to Jewishness, violates the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and its statement regarding “complete equality of social & political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender.” Against the vision of Israel’s founding fathers, including deep democratic impulses in classical rightwing Revisoinist Zionism, there is no mention of rule of law, equality, equal citizenship, human dignity.

Here are a few takeaways:

Clause A and B in section 1 regarding the Land of Israel and the Jewish people are more or less matter of fact, ideologically speaking. The final clause C is superfluous except for the way it twists the knife into the Palestinian minority by defining an exclusive relation between the Jewish people and the State of Israel that excludes them intentionally.

1A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.

1B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.

1C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

Regarding religion and state, it is unclear what constitutes a “religious right to self-determination” and how this might be constituted. But there it is, the invention of a new right for religion, in this case Jewish religion only, slipped surreptitiously into the law.  It should be noted how religious discrimination against Muslims and Christians is rooted in another exclusive relation between Jews and the State.

See 1B above.

Arabic language is demoted from being an official language of the state to being to a special one. It’s unclear how clause C follows clause B. The status of Arabic language in Israel, such as it is and such as it could become, is definitely damaged.

4 B. The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.

5C. This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.

The section supporting Diaspora Jews is turning into a joke, given the way the rightwing governments of Benjamin Netanyahu are promoting relations with rightwing xenophobes in Europe (and also the United States) while marginalizing and cracking down on liberal Judaism in Israel.

6A The state will strive to ensure the safety of the members of the Jewish people in trouble or in captivity due to the fact of their Jewishness or their citizenship.

The State now promotes “settlement” of its majority, with no mention of the needs of its Israeli-Palestinian minority and no mention about the status of Palestinians in the West Bank.

7A. The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.

The ethno-nation state law is “Immutable.”

11 This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.

There is no consensus in Israeli and Jewish society.

The ethno-nation state bill is a peculiar piece of legislation. A bill such as this (a Basic Law with semi-constitutional status) would seem to need the support of a super-majority in the Knesset and broad consensus across Israeli civil society. But that is not how democracy works in Israel, where the majority simply dominates the minority. But even a “Zionist” bill, one could think that nowadays days (after the passing of the heyday of Political Zionism and its dogma negating the Diaspora) a law such as this should enjoy buy-in from large sectors of the Jewish Diaspora. That is not the case.

There is not political consensus in Israel about this law. It passed by a vote of 62 to 55 and 2 abstentions. The entire opposition, Jewish and Palestinian, voted against it.

By definition, a semi-constitutional law that excludes 20% of the county, i.e. the Israeli Palestinian citizens, cannot be democratic.

The ethno-nation state law has been rejected in no uncertain terms by the President of Israel, and there were warnings from the Attorney General about legal-political ramifications.

Diaspora Jewish organizations condemn this law. Included are mainline groups like Jewish Federations of North America, religious groups like the Reform movement, the American Jewish Congress, and the ADL

After the bill passed, Netanyahu called this a “defining moment,” then declaring “long live the State of Israel.” The exact ethno-national definition of Israel is precisely the problem with this bill.

What the Jewish Ethno-State Law is supposed to fend off is that final reckoning when Jews become a minority in the entire territories under sovereign Israeli political and military control.  This is an opening gambit to annexing the West Bank, or large parts of the West Bank, and keeping West Bank Palestinians disenfranchised non-citizens in an apartheid-like polity. One day, Israel will have to make a choice between Jewishness and democracy, absent a Jewish majority. This law stacks the deck in advance. In the Jewish majority running roughshod over the Palestinian minority who are citizens of Israel, the way is opened for Israel to continue controlling and even annexing the West Bank while safeguarding what will one day be Jewish minority rule in the total area comprising Israel and the West Bank.

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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2 Responses to The Jewish Republic of Israel (Ethno-Nation State Law)

  1. Berel Dov Dov Lerner says:

    “The final clause C is superfluous except for the way it twists the knife into the Palestinian minority by defining an exclusive relation between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel that excludes them intentionally.” Except that it refers to the State of Israel”. not the “Land of Israel”

  2. dmf says:

    can we call it an apartheid state yet/

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