New Basic Law makes apartheid the foundation of Israel

December 2, 2014
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:

1) WSJ: You Need a Law to Affirm Israel’s Jewish Identity?, two passionate Israel-lovers, David Ellenson and Deborah Lipstadt, express their dismay at a needless and provocative bill which betrays Israel’s founding principles;
2) Reuters: What’s behind the effort to make the ‘Jewish State’ more ‘Jewish’, Netanyahu is more afraid of his right wing than he is of international opinion, Palestinians respond on Facebook;
3) Times of Israel: Conservative movement: Stop ‘Jewish state’ bill;
4) Haaretz: And now apartheid is being sneaked into Israel’s very foundations, Gideon Levy says the bill is preparation for one state in which non-Jews would be constitutionally subjects not citizens;
5) Jewish Forward: The Insecurity That Lies Beneath Israel’s ‘Jewish Nation’ Bill, JJ Goldberg argues that being a Jewish state is not the issue; what is are the undemocratic ambitions of the bill’s right-wing backers
6) Haaretz: Five must-read opinion pieces about Israel’s nation-state bill, one of which is posted as item 4;

Hundreds of Israelis demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Jewish nation-state” bill on November 29 outside the Netanyahu’s residency in Jerusalem. AFP/ Getty Images

You Need a Law to Affirm Israel’s Jewish Identity?

The proposed bill may inflame Israel’s Arab citizens and provide fodder for its critics.

By David Ellenson and Deborah Lipstadt
December 01, 2014

When Palestinians murdered worshippers in a west Jerusalem synagogue at morning services on Nov. 18, one of the first Israeli policemen on the scene was Zidan Saif, a member of the minority Druse religious community. He played a key role in stopping the assault and was murdered as he did so. The entire nation took note of his sacrifice. Israelis, among them many ultra-Orthodox and President Reuven Rivlin, turned out in droves for his funeral as a sign of respect and gratitude. Now the Israeli Knesset is poised to consider a bill which would demean this man’s standing as an Israeli citizen.

It is with sadness that we write these words. We are both staunch supporters—indeed lovers—of the state of Israel. We rejoice in the fact that we have lived there for extended periods. We consider Israel to be central to our own self-understanding and identity as Jews.

It is precisely because of that love that we find ourselves so alarmed by the Israeli cabinet’s support last week for a proposed basic law called “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is intent on introducing this proposed bill to the Knesset. The lawmakers may take an initial vote in the next few days; if the bill passes this first stage, it will be sent for mark-up and two more rounds of voting, but its essential effect is unlikely to be altered: The law would formally identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, enshrine Jewish law as a source of inspiration for legislation, and delist Arabic as an official language. It pointedly fails to affirm Israel’s democratic character.

The proposed legislation betrays the most fundamental principles enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex and will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”

Such a bill would certainly concern, if not inflame, Israel’s Arab citizens. However, it also is a cause of concern for countless Jews in Israel and throughout the world who are committed to Israel as a democratic state devoted to human rights and equality.

We firmly believe that Israel is a Jewish state just as its neighbours are Muslim states. We are also proud that Israel, in contrast to most of these other states, is a democracy that proclaims that religious minorities who live within its borders can be full-fledged citizens who suffer no impediments because of their faith or identity.

The proposed bill provides no additional security for the State of Israel. It wouldn’t help the country stand up to Hamas or any of the other nations or groups devoted to Israel’s destruction. On the contrary, the law may place Israel in ever-greater danger. It fosters the impression that Israel has moved away from its firm commitment to democracy and sends a message that the full-fledged rights of all its citizens—the 20% of its citizens who are not Jews—are diminished in the eyes of the law.

Why provide fodder for Israel’s critics, some of whom lie in wait for the slightest pretext to condemn Israelis? This bill would give them that opportunity. But it isn’t just Israel’s well-being that is threatened.

Israel, which proudly claims that its mandate extends to the protection of Jews living outside its borders, should consider the bill’s potential impact on global Jewry, especially Jews in Europe. Amid a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world, increasing numbers of European Jews feel that they live under threat and that even those who were once their allies—liberal, pro-democracy groups—have abandoned them. This bill would deliver to those groups added cover to justify their opposition to Israel, an opposition that often spills over into a general antipathy for Jews.

Finally, consider the message the bill would send to Zidan Saif’s 4-month-old daughter: that your father died for this state and its citizens but you are no longer a full-fledged member of it?

For many decades, Jews such as us feared—and often rightly so—that criticism on our part could provide ammunition to those who opposed Israel’s existence. Now, to a certain degree, the tables are reversed. In speaking out against such a bill, we speak for the future good of the Israel we cherish.

Mr. Ellenson is the chancellor of Hebrew Union College. Ms Lipstadt is a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.

What’s behind the effort to make the ‘Jewish State’ more ‘Jewish’

By Matt Duss, Reuters
December 02, 2014

With the myriad challenges the Israeli government currently faces – regional turmoil, unrest in Jerusalem, and opposition to a highly contentious budget — this might seem like an interesting time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promulgate a new law defining Israel’s identity as “the nation state of the Jewish people.” The bill, which was supposed to have been voted on this Wednesday but has now been delayed, would recognize Jewish religious law as an inspiration for legislation, and affirm that, “The right to the fulfilment of national self-determination within the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

At first glance, the timing for this bill is odd. The past months have seen the most unrest in years among Israel’s Palestinian population. The murder of 16 year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and set on fire in revenge for the murder of three Israeli teenagers in July, have fuelled tensions that are high after decades of neglect at the hands of the Israeli government. Anti-Arab demagoguery by Israeli politicians, and anti-Arab attacks by Israeli citizens who take that demagoguery seriously, is on the upswing In the view of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, who make up some 20% of the population, the new law would make clear that they are second-class citizens.

The move is understandable, however, when one takes into account that Netanyahu needs to protect his right flank from rising contenders like Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed declaring the two-state solution dead. Netanyahu is also pressured by critics within his own Likud Party, where he finds himself representing the left-leaning camp in an increasingly right-wing party.

Israeli centrists and liberals, including former Israeli president Shimon Peres, have roundly criticized the proposed law. “The bill will damage the country both at home and abroad and it will erode the democratic principles of the State of Israel,” Peres said, calling it “an attempt to undermine the Declaration of Independence for political interests.” Israel’s current president, Reuven Rivlin, who has been waging an admirable campaign against racism in Israel, also criticized the proposed law. Leaders of two centrist parties in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, Tzipi Livni of Hatnua and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, have said that they will oppose the bill.

For its part, the U.S. State Department issued a subtle but clear warning against the bill. “Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and all its citizens should enjoy equal rights. We expect Israel to stick to its democratic principles,” said spokesperson Jeff Rathke last week — earning him a quick rebuke from Bennett.

Hundreds of Israeli Arabs, like Hanin Majadli above, have added a stamp to their Facebook profile pictures, decclaring them to be a ‘second-class citizen’. Photo by Facebook

As for Israel’s Arab population, they quite clearly see the bill as an effort to codify their inferior status. In the wake of the horrendous synagogue terror attack of November 18, much was made of the fact that one of those killed, Zidan Saif, an Israeli policeman, was himself an Arab, and a member of Israel’s small Druze community. Yet this new law would make clear that this man was not an equal citizen to those whom he died defending.

“The ‘nation-state law,’ is saying, in other words: ‘Only the Jews should remain here,’” Zidan’s uncle, Mahmoud Zeif, said on Israeli Army radio last week. “So many came to comfort us last week, and to exalt Zidan for saving lives, and today [the government] passes a law like this. How can this be? Why is this at all necessary?”

Saif’s brother said that he would discourage other members of the Druze community to join the IDF as a result of the law.

It’s worth recognizing that the issues of identity that the law attempts to address are real and legitimate. And Israel is by no means the only country that faces the challenge of balancing liberalism and nationalism. But the current law seems to simply abandon any pretense of balance in favor of the latter. Like other populist leaders in the region and beyond (Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to mind), Netanyahu has now chosen to favor chauvinism over equality for the basest of reasons: political survival.

One imagines that Netanyahu would have something to say about any similar law being passed in the United States, home to the world’s second-largest Jewish community, asserting America’s Christian identity. And he would be right to.

Since taking office in 2009, Netanyahu has placed a great deal of emphasis on the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state in any final status agreement. But given how contentious this issue has proven to be even among Israelis themselves, it hardly seems reasonable to demand that the Palestinian leadership weigh in on the question.

“This law is fearful. It is not closing the chapter on Israel’s tense relationship between Jewish identity and the State,” wrote Israeli analyst Dahlia Scheindlin, “it is opening the window to acid rain.”

The law is framed as an attempt to resolve tensions between Israel’s democratic and Jewish aspects, but it seems far more likely that it will only heighten those tensions. The consequences remain to be seen, but it’s safe to say that it won’t bring greater security or peace – for anyone.

‘Celebrating My Old (but Official) State Second Class Citizen!’Tweeted by Sana Jamm, Co-Owner at Studio Kanaba · November 24 ·

Conservative movement: Stop ‘Jewish state’ bill

US Jewish leadership calls on Netanyahu to cease pushing for law that ‘risks further eroding values of religious pluralism’

By Times of Israel staff
December 2, 2014

The Conservative/Masorati movement called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop advancing legislation of the “Jewish state” bill in a joint statement released by the group’s leadership Sunday.

The US Conservative leaders expressed concern that the bill’s current version would “erode the democratic character of Israel.”

“We call upon Israel’s political leadership to refrain from passage of any bill that weakens the social contract already effectively expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Laws which delineate Israel’s most precious ethical, moral and democratic political values,” read the statement signed by the combined leadership of Conservative synagogues and rabbis in America.

“Current versions of a new nationality bill now under discussion will erode, rather than strengthen, the democratic character of Israel. Strong and clear opposition by leading figures currently in office, including President Reuven Rivlin, raise important issues of the possible erosion of democratic freedoms resulting from this bill, the risk of attrition of the rights of Arabs and other minorities and the risk of further eroding values of religious pluralism,” the statement read.

The Conservative/Masorati movement’s objections to the bill comes in the wake of harsh criticism from Israeli politicians, including ministers in Netanyhu’s government who have threatened to break ranks with the coalition if the bill was brought to the plenum in its current form.

The coalition is currently teetering over the “Jewish state” bill, the budget and other differences, following a stormy meeting between the prime minister and Finance Minister Yair Lapid in which Netanyahu presented demands to keep the government running, demands he knew Lapid could not accept. Each accused the other of dragging Israelis to new elections.

If passed into law, bill would enshrine Israel as the Jewish nation-state and ensure national self-determination and individual rights for Jews, but only individual rights for non-Jewish citizens. Opponents say the bill alienates Israel’s Arab and Druze minorities.

And now apartheid is being sneaked into Israel’s very foundations

The Jewish nation-state bill is legal preparation for the right wing’s one-state solution, the annexation of the territories and the establishment of the Jewish apartheid state.

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz
November 27, 2014

It may be better to take the right wing seriously for a change. Of course, we may despise this whole silly Jewish nation-state law affair, its creators’ lust for party primaries and greed for high ratings, and think that it will be quickly forgotten anyway. We might look at it in the context of an I’m-bigger-than-you contest among the right wing’s leadership. Of course, we might also take it more seriously and be afraid that it will harm the Arab minority living in the State of Israel.

We might also suggest a different, much more serious and dangerous reading of the bill: It conceals a plot more far-reaching than it seems. This bill is legal preparation for the right wing’s one-state solution, the annexation of the territories and the establishment of the Jewish apartheid state. The bill is the constitutional foundation, and its acceptance is the laying of the cornerstone of the binational segregation state that the right wing is setting up quietly and methodically, unseen and unhindered.

Israel is definitely a state ruled by law. Since its establishment, it has based all its injustices on laws. The Jewish nation-state law will one day be the first article in its constitution. Its ramifications at that point will be more serious than they appear: They will not apply only to the Arab minority, the country’s citizens, as it seems now they will; they will apply to half the inhabitants of the incipient apartheid state. That is the bill’s true purpose.

The proof of this is indisputable. Anyone who still believes in the two-state solution will never need a Jewish nation-state law. The two-state solution is supposed to ensure a clear and decisive Jewish majority – and then, what will all the fuss be about?

It is only in a binational state that the bill is essential. Only there must all the privileges of one nation be anchored in law, as opposed to those of the other. Only there must the precedence of the Chosen People over the inferior indigenous nation be assured. Only there is a Jewish nation-state law necessary.

True, the right wing’s insistence on passing the bill into law stems from long-term concern over the future of the state – the apartheid state. The weakness of the centre-left, which has proposed “amendments” to the bill – as if amending a nation-state bill were even possible – illustrates how the right wing’s deception has hoodwinked us as well.

Gray characters such as Zeev Elkin, Yariv Levin and even Ayelet Shaked are incapable of giving the impression that they are motivated by any vision other than Jewish nationalism and hatred of Arabs and foreigners. No one has ever suspected Benjamin Netanyahu of being a strategist either. Yet we cannot ignore the possibility that this could be a fraud with a crucial outcome. The appearance of inaction, populism, manipulative scheming, survival and clinging to power may be concealing a well-organized, dangerous plan that is coming true before our wide-shut eyes.

It is no accident that the Jewish nation-state bill was introduced only after the right-wing government succeeded in (almost) completely killing the two-state solution. Now that it is obvious that there will not be two states, they must start worrying about the character of the one state, which is already in the formative stages. They must make sure, at any price, that it will not be democratic and egalitarian.

And what do we have that is more effective and vital than a Jewish nation-state law? This is how the last excuse of the apartheid-deniers, who claim that unlike in South Africa there are no racial (or national) laws here, will fall. The Jewish nation-state law will shape the character of the one state according to its spirit – the spirit of apartheid. The law will ensure what the right wing has always been saying: that this country has room for two peoples, one superior and one inferior. One with all rights, and one with none. From now on, under the protection of the law, according to which everything is done. First in sovereign, occupying Israel, and soon in the annexing and colonialist one, too.

The Insecurity That Lies Beneath Israel’s ‘Jewish Nation’ Bill

Right Wing Backers Worry About One-State Future

By J.J. Goldberg, Jdewish Forward
December 01, 2014

Once you clear away the hype and bombast, the arguments being bandied about over Israel’s proposed Jewish Nation-State law — across the board, pro and con alike — are largely beside the point. There’s a problem with the bill, but it’s not the one everyone’s worried about.

The first thing to understand is that Israel is a Jewish state. It’s defined that way in Israeli law and recognized as such in international law, despite what the bill’s supporters say. And despite what many of its critics say, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, it was the United Nations that ordered the creation of “independent Arab and Jewish states” in Mandatory Palestine. That was the point of the U.N.’s 1947 partition vote. That vote, Resolution 181, gave international sanction to Jewish statehood.

Israel itself formalized its Jewish identity in its founding document, the Proclamation of Independence, which declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” The proclamation was adopted unanimously on May 14, 1948, by the Vaad Leumi or People’s Council, which appointed itself Israel’s provisional government. The council’s governing authority over the Jewish community in Palestine had been granted years earlier by the British mandatory government, and was recognized internationally, first by the League of Nations and later by the U.N.

Over the years Israel’s Supreme Court has gone back and forth on the legal standing of specific sections of the proclamation. But the council’s authority to declare statehood has never been questioned. If there’s a state of Israel, there’s a Jewish state of Israel.

Nobody suggested at the time that there was something undemocratic about a state being Jewish. It was understood around the world — though it’s often forgotten today — that the Jews were not simply a confessional sect. Jews were first of all an ethnic group, not fundamentally different from Croats, Armenians or Tibetans except for the critical detail that Jews were landless. The U.N. partition vote was the world community’s decision to fix that detail. On November 29, 1947, by a vote of 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions, the Jews were welcomed into the international community of nation-states. Done.

There were objections to partition, but they weren’t over the notion that a state identified with a particular ethnicity or religion couldn’t be democratic. Nearly all the “no” votes came from Arab and Muslim states that were themselves self-defined religious states. Their objections had to do with the state’s location, on what they considered Arab soil.

That was then. Today, nearly seven decades later, the U.N.’s decision to create a Jewish state on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean is more widely accepted than ever. The Palestine Liberation Organization voted in 1988 to ratify Resolution 181 — 41 years late, but better late than never — and establish a Palestinian Arab state alongside the Jewish one as the U.N. had instructed. The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation followed suit in 2002. Accepting Resolution 181 and recognizing Israel as a sovereign state with the right to define itself amounts to accepting Jewish statehood. One needn’t recite the U.N. resolution aloud to accept its content.

Now, it’s true that the Jewishness of the Jewish state is not merely an ethnic description. Judaism is the state religion. The history of the Jews is inextricably bound up with the Jewish religion. Even the most secular versions of Israeli and Zionist culture are rooted in the Hebrew language, the rhythms of the Jewish calendar, the imagery of the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature and a flag with a six-pointed star.

But this, too, is unremarkable. More than a quarter of the U.N.’s member-states have official state religions — 24 Christian, 25 Muslim and four Buddhist (Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Bhutan, if you’re curious). They range from theocratic Saudi Arabia and Iran to open democracies like Sweden, Denmark and England. Nobody seriously contends that the mere fact of an established religion inherently strips minorities of their democratic rights. Democracy is in the way you do things.

For that matter, close to two dozen nations have Christian crosses on their national flags, including nearly half the states of democratic Europe. Another dozen national flags feature the Islamic crescent or the tawhid, the Muslim declaration of faith.

What do we learn from all this? Two things: First, there’s nothing remarkable by international standards about Israel being a Jewish state. Second, Israel doesn’t need to pass a special law to make itself a Jewish state.

So what’s all the fuss about? To answer that, you need to understand what the bill is, and more important, what it isn’t. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says a law is needed as a reply to the growing international mood of hostility toward Israel’s Jewish character. It’s supposed to be a bulwark against the delegitimization of Jewish statehood.

But it’s nothing of the sort. Israel’s opponents aren’t complaining that Israel isn’t Jewish enough. They’re complaining that it isn’t democratic enough. The Israel-as-the-Jewish-nation-state bill doesn’t fix that. It makes it worse.
The initial versions of the law adopted by the cabinet November 23 give Israel’s Jewish character legal precedence over its democratic character. That will only intensify international opposition. If enacting Israeli legislation is supposed to be a way to slow the the country’s international slide, this does the opposite.
Nor does the bill add any new content to Israel’s Jewishness. Its contribution is not to define what Jewish statehood includes, but what it excludes: Arabic language, Palestinian national pride, a religion-neutral legal culture.

It’s no accident that the legislation’s sponsors and main backers are the same right-wing factions, in the Likud and Jewish Home parties, that are fighting hardest against territorial compromise and Palestinian statehood. They’re not worried about international opinion. Their problem is the built-in flaw in their own blueprint for the future.

Holding onto the territories, maintaining a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, means creating a binational state. The advocates face growing pressure — and anger — from the military, academic, arts and legal communities and other sectors, all demanding to know how Israel can absorb two million-plus West Bank Palestinians without losing the Zionist vision of a Jewish state.

Their answer is to ground the state’s Jewish character — its language, calendar, legal culture, national anthem — in a quasi-constitutional basic law that can’t be amended except by a Knesset super-majority. That’s how they intend to defend Jewish statehood: by relegating the culture and values of today’s non-Jewish minority to the sidelines and ensuring they stay there, even if and when they become a majority.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at

Five must-read opinion pieces about Israel’s nation-state bill

Haaretz commentators fill in the background to – and envision a dystopian future for – the proposed legislation that would entrench exclusively Jewish rights in Israel.

By Haaretz
December 01, 2014

Few pieces of Israeli legislation have aroused as much passion and debate as the so-called nation-state bill, which has been approved by the cabinet but has yet to go to the Knesset plenum due to vociferous coalition opposition. It’s the sort of bill that brings down coalitions – and it may still do just that.

The bill, which was drafted by MK Zeev Elkin but has been adopted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a toned-down format, defines the State of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” – an overriding identity whenever democratic principles clash with Jewish interests.

It also reserves communal rights in Israel for Jews only, limiting the country’s Arab community to “personal rights … according to law.” Elkin’s original version would have defined Hebrew as Israel’s only national language, as well, reducing Arabic to secondary status.

Salman Masalha notes Netanyahu’s undeniable Jewish patriotism, but questions whether the prime minister has ever known what it means to be Israeli. The last prime minister who acted in an Israeli fashion, he notes, “was murdered in a square in the first Hebrew city by a Jewish, yarmulke-wearing assassin.” Read the full article.

Welcome, Diaspora Jews, to the Israel you’ve been avoiding, writes Asher Schechter. “It’s not like Netanyahu is changing anything,” he says, “he’s just lifting the veil.” The money, influence and unwavering support of Jews abroad, particularly those in America, has “enabled many of the behaviors that contributed to the kind of arrogant solipsism that made Israeli politicians believe they can get away with anything. “Read the full article. 

Gideon Levy speculates that the intentions underlying bill may be more far-reaching than they seem. The legislation, he says, may be “legal preparation for the right wing’s one-state solution, the annexation of the territories and the establishment of the Jewish apartheid state.” There would be no need for the bill in a two-state environment, Levy writes. Only in a binational state – in which there are “two peoples, one superior and the other inferior” – would it be necessary to ensure Jewish supremacy.Read the full article. [see above]

Chemi Shalev conjures up a nightmarish scenario of post-nation state Israel. He envisions a future in which the judiciary has been emasculated and hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been deprived of voting rights and forced to wear small green crescents on each sleeve – “for their own safety as well as that of the Jews.” “We’ve come a long way since we legislated the Jewish nation-state law back in 2014,” says the prime minister, “but we still have a long way to go.” Read the full article. 

“The year 2014 has been one of the worst that the State of Israel has ever known,” writes Uzi Baram. “This is the year that the hatred, racism and aspirations for Jewish exclusivity crawled out of their holes.” He points to the November 2012 removal of Benny Begin – a man who was “loyal to parliamentary democracy and respected the legal system” – from the Likud slate in as the moment at which the alarm bells started ringing – though they went largely unheard at the time. Read the full article. 

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