New Knesset bill is a danger to Israeli democracy
The things endangering the support of the nations of the world for Israel – and among marginal elements also the recognition of Israel as the national home for the Jewish people – are the occupation and the many blows to Israeli democracy.
The bill introduced by 40 MKs headed by Kadima’s Avi Dichter for a new Basic Law establishing Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people” effectively shatters Israel’s fragile definition as a Jewish, democratic state. The bill replaces it with a definition that is nationalist and religious; the term “national home” stands in opposition to rationalist Zionism. Theodor Herzl said in Basel that the Zionists sought to create a “home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, secured by public law.” The “home for the Jewish people,” according to Dichter and company, is the opposite of this aim. It is all withdrawal in the name of extreme, nationalist “Judaism.”
The bill defines in great detail the Jewish essence of the state. The definition of democracy, however, is reduced to one short clause and leaves much room for interpretation as a dictatorship of the majority rather than a regime committed to civil rights and the protection of minorities. The goal of rescinding the Arabic language’s official status, also included in the bill, is to erase the Arab citizens’ language, culture and heritage from the Israeli identity.
The bill’s preamble states that many people are trying “to eliminate recognition of the State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.” But the things endangering the support of the nations of the world for Israel – and among marginal elements also the recognition of Israel as the national home for the Jewish people – are the occupation and the many blows to Israeli democracy.
This bill, which violates the promise of equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and tells Arabs they are unwanted, second-class citizens whose taxes will be used to preserve Jewish heritage, coincides with high-flown talk about the importance of integrating the country’s Arab citizens into the state and its economy. The bill also specifies the superiority of the principles of Judaism over the principles of freedom. Legislating a preference for Jewish law opens the door to the destruction of the judicial system and its subordination to religious political power.
A few MKs have already withdrawn their support for the bill, while others are hesitating. We can only hope that before the bill is submitted to a vote, everyone will realize that the entire proposal is dangerous to democracy and would turn Israel into a place that is difficult to live in, not only for its Arab citizens but also for free, enlightened Jews.
‘The National Home of the Jewish People’ bill presumes to represent Diaspora Jews; they will have to decide whether they want to continue living abroad in a democratic country that lets them practice their faith as they wish, or in a Jewish state that robs the foundations of democracy from them.
By Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz
The superfluous mask has finally been torn off. A Jewish state and a democratic state cannot exist under the same roof. One contradicts the other. In his explanations for the bill that he initiated with Kadima’s Avi Dichter and Yisrael Beiteinu’s David Rotem – this marvelous combination should be etched well in our memories – Likud’s Zeev Elkin said that “the law is designed to give the courts reasoning that supports the state as the Jewish nation-state when ruling in situations in which the state’s Jewish character clashes with the principles of democracy.”
There was no need to wait for Elkin’s explanations or to be angry about the support of the 20 MKs from that strange party, Kadima, which behaves like a car in which not only the headlights don’t work, neither do the hazards. The Jewish sharia bill, which the MKs introduced furtively before fleeing for their long recess, will only make the existing situation official. It will make clear to any Jew in the world that a blend of democracy and Judaism is only possible in the Diaspora.
To “be a Jew in your tent and a man in the street,” as in the poem by Yehuda Leib Gordon – which became the slogan of the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment – is possible only for an American, French or British Jew. In Jewish Israel, a Jew can be a Jew only – democracy will officially be defined as a luxury. It will be possible only in cases where religion permits it. And religion will permit it only when it does not contradict the word of God. Sovereignty is transferred from the citizen to the Holy One, blessed be He, and his interpreters on earth.
On the other hand, it’s hard to oppose a bill that puts the State of Israel so near the other countries in the region and creates a foundation of understanding among the nations based on granting religion a higher priority than the state and government. For example, the Egyptian constitution states that “the Islamic principles of law are the main source for legislation.” According to the Syrian constitution, “Muslim law is the source for legislation.”
Actually, it seems the Iranian constitution could serve as an excellent inspiration for the country’s commitment to promoting God as a main source of legislation. This constitution requires the country to create “the proper environment for the growth of ethical values based on faith, piety and a battle against corruption.” This “proper environment” imposes the will of religion on art, science, the media and of course education.
The Israeli bill is not as far-reaching. It does not demand that “Jewish art” be an exclusive subject for study and does not prohibit the teaching of science that contradicts faith. Although it revokes Arabic’s status as an official language, it still permits Arab citizens “the right to linguistic access to government services, as will be determined by law,” unlike Turkey’s approach to the Kurdish language. But there is no prohibition against passing a law that will prohibit this right as well.
The bill does not yet rule that Jewish law is the main source of authority for legislation, and for now makes do with the fact that Jewish law “will serve as a source of inspiration for the legislator.” And when there is no solution in legislation, case law or “a clear analogy,” the court will be required to decide according to the principles of “freedom, justice, integrity and peace in the Jewish heritage.”
What exactly are those principles? “An eye for an eye”? Or “a stranger shalt thou not wrong”? And what are the principles of peace in the Jewish heritage? Those of Rotem, Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich (Kadima), or those of Nachman Shai (Kadima ), Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) – who are all signatories to the bill? Do “the principles of peace” permit territorial compromise or does the Promised Land, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, constitute the borders of the Jewish nation-state?
The bill, which is called “The National Home of the Jewish People,” presumes to represent Diaspora Jews as well. But from now on they will have to decide whether they want to continue living abroad in a democratic country that lets them practice their faith as they wish, or in a Jewish state that robs the foundations of democracy from them. This is usually a silent Jewish community that is tolerant of its country of refuge, a refuge that is gradually becoming crammed with garbage that is liable to keep away any liberal Jew.