The Lie Behind the Nation-State Law Backlash

By Dror Eydar

Israel Hayom

August 10, 2018

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

  1. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
  2. 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.
  3. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

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 gone mad?

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 non-Jews.

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.