Lie Behind the Nation-State Law Backlash
By Dror Eydar
The nation-state law that was legislated last
month did indeed set off a seismic shift. The law, which legally defines Israel
as the nation-state of the Jewish people, forces the Jewish public in Israel and
around the world to confront the identity of the state and the basic premise
behind the entire Zionist enterprise: The return of the Jewish people to Zion
and our responsibility for one another.
Do we have a historical,
religious and legal right to this land? Or are we foreign occupiers who invaded
someone else's territory?
Let's take a look at the actual
wording of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish
People. The first article is as follows:
1 – Basic principles
There is no real reason for the
Zionist Left in Israel to oppose this law. The only reasons for the Left's
vehement criticism are petty political considerations that have managed to
eclipse our national unity at this momentously important juncture in our
history. The fears and patterns that were imprinted on us during thousands of
years in exile have made many of us resistant to anchoring the Jewish aspect in
our de facto constitution. We find the assertion that certain rights are
"Jewish-only" unpalatable. It's "racist" or
"violent" and "undemocratic" and it reminds us of
"apartheid." So how can we even dare say that the right to
self-determination in Israel is "unique to the Jewish people"? Have we
Indeed, we have gone mad. The
Jews have returned to their homeland, after having dispersed to all corners of
the world and splintered into thousands of separate communities. Now, our
national spirit has reawakened after thousands of years of slumber. So we
returned home, established a state, and revived the national entity. A state is
power. Should the Jews have power? Why, that would be immoral! Just like the
term "Jewish nationality"! As a rule, some among us feel that adding
the word "Jewish" to anything is problematic. It makes them
uncomfortable. They don't want to step on anyone's toes.
The argument that substituting
the controversial wording of the nation-state law with the agreed upon wording
of the Declaration of Independence would ease the minds of Israel's non-Jewish
citizens is a sad joke. It proves that people are not only neglecting to read
the nation-state law, they also haven't read the Declaration of Independence.
The revered declaration contains the world "Jewish" 20 times in
various iterations. The "right" or "rights" of the Jewish
people appear nine times. It is only after the Jewish rights are established
that the declaration goes on to talk about ensuring "complete equality of
social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion,
race or sex."
The declaration upholds equality
– where the nation-state law does not, the detractors say. Sure! Equality must
be upheld for everyone. But the declaration talks about "social and
political" equality – meaning civil rights. Not equality in the right to
self-determination in this land. Israel is a Jewish state. It is not a state of
all nationalities. In it, all citizens enjoy absolute equality, both Jews and
The petition recently filed by
the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and the Joint Arab List, with the help of
Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – indicates
that the challenge is not against any specific article or clause within the law
but rather it is against the general spirit of the law. It is against the
fundamental notion that the Jewish people have a right to their land and an
exclusive right to exercise self-determination in it.
The Arabs (and parts of the
Jewish and Western Left) refuse to acknowledge the fundamental underpinnings of
the first article of the law. To them, it is not the "land of Israel"
– it is Palestine. It is not the historical homeland of the Jewish people,
because the Jews are "immigrants" who came mainly from Europe. The
"Jewish people" are not really a people, but rather a religion. At
most, our national identity is a very new issue that arose with the national
reawakening in Europe in the 19th century.
Therefore, they conclude, there is absolutely no room to talk about the
"Jewish people" exercising their "natural, cultural, religious
and historical right to self-determination."
The natural conclusion from all
this is that the Jews' "unique" right to self-determination in the
State of Israel is an arbitrary assertion, merely meant to establish the
superiority of one ethnic group (the Jews) over another (the Arabs). That's
where the allegations of "apartheid" and "racism" and all
the other exclamations about the nation-state law, even made by our own
brethren, come from.
The discourse within the Israeli
Left – all the talk about the absence of the term "equality" from
the law – is inextricably linked to the petition that the Arab Israelis filed.
It was most convenient for the law's critics to send the Druze Israelis to the
battlefront on this issue, because the Druze generally accept the Jewish
character of Israel and actively defend it. The answer to the Druze protests was
that the law pertains to the issue of nationality, and the Druze, by their own
definition, are not a nationality.
The conversation involving the
Druze community about the nation-state law and its implications should focus on
the way the State of Israel treats minorities that link their fate to that of
the Jewish people, the way the Druze have. This can be addressed a slew of other
laws. And still, the principle is worth mentioning: The nation-state law does
not turn the Druze, who serve in the Israeli military, into
"mercenaries." They are not in the military to "defend
Jews." They are defending themselves, first and foremost. Just take a look
at Syria or Lebanon and you'll see how hard it can be for the Druze minority,
unlike here in Israel.
But the same does not apply to
the Arab Israeli minority, particularly the Muslim Arabs. The Druze did not do
themselves any favors when they entered this fight because it is not about them.
The nation-state law outraged the Arab parties because it anchors in law
everything that they have been fighting against since the establishment of
Israel, and even before its establishment.
The following is the opening
excerpt from the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee's so-called position paper –
"The Future Vision of the Arab Palestinians in Israel," published in
2006: "Israel is the outcome of a settlement process initiated by the
Zionist–Jewish elite in Europe and the West and realized by colonial countries
contributing to it and by promoting Jewish immigration to Palestine, in light of
the results of the Second World War and the Holocaust."
There you have it. We are a
collective without any roots. We have no history here aside from a colonialist
plot hatched by the Jewish elites with the help of colonialist Europe. Just as
the Europeans colonized territories in Africa, Asia, South America and the
Middle East, having no historical, religious or cultural connection to them,
thus the Jews "colonized Palestine." This plot gained traction after
the Holocaust because the Europeans, alarmed at what they had done to the Jews,
decided to "compensate" them at the expense of Palestine's Arabs and
give them a land that wasn't theirs.
The underlying assumption held by
the authors of this document (described as "crystallizing facts") is
that "the Palestinian Arabs in Israel are the indigenous people of the
country and have a historic and material relationship with their homeland
emotionally, nationally, religiously and culturally. They are an integral vital
and inseparable part of the Palestinian people."
You see? In the seventh century,
the Muslims came here from the Arabian Peninsula and conquered the land,
massacring the local inhabitants. For hundreds of years, they expelled Jews from
their homeland and forced others to convert to Islam. But still, there was never
a separate Arab entity here. Now they are claiming to be the original
inhabitants of the land. And in addition, they are rejecting the Jews' rights
and the Jews' national, religious and cultural relationship with the land.
Shockingly and shamefully, parts of the Jewish Left in Israel have adopted this false narrative, and it lies at the foundation of many petitions against the nation-state law, even if not in these exact words. Worse yet, this enormous lie is at the foundation of the public and media backlash against the nation-state law.