The Israeli Knesset, its parliament, recently enacted a basic law, roughly an equivalent of an American constitutional amendment. Despite some positive elements, this new “Nation-State Statute” endangers the security of Israel, and makes new battles between Israel and its neighbors more likely.
I have relatives in Israel, including nephews and nieces in the Israeli army, and worry about their safety.
This basic law has positive elements. It counters the attempts of the United Nations and two U.S. presidents who tried to remove the Jerusalem Old City from the State of Israel. Jerusalem must remain complete and unified as the capital of Israel for both religious and strategic reasons.
However, if the Israelis want to find a path leading eventually to peace, they must enable the Palestinians to find a viable path that leads them eventually to their own state. The choices are inconvenient.
But, even within the turmoil of the Middle Eastern wars, Israel and Palestine can find a path along which they can support each other’s growth and improvement. For this, Israel will have to modify sections of this basic law drastically.
The law begins by stating that Israel is a Jewish state, and identifying its official symbols. Jerusalem is its capital.
The succeeding sections are the dangerous ones. They state that Hebrew is Israel’s only official language, but “Arabic continues to have a special status as given previously,” when Hebrew and Arabic were Israel’s official languages. Israel will guard “the well-being of the Jewish people and (Israeli) citizens endangered because of their Judaism or citizenship.” Israel will maintain the relations between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel. It will work to maintain “the religious, historical, and cultural traditions of Diaspora Jews.” Israel will “treat Jewish settlement as a national value, and will continue to encourage it.”
A major problem is the definition of “Jewish.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has supported the ultra-Orthodox claim that theirs is the only Jewish standard. Thereby, this law denies the Jewish validity of the Conservative, Reform, and even many of the Orthodox Jewish communities.
The law fragments Israel, as shown by the latest demonstration of over 50,000 people in Tel Aviv.
As shown in the U.S., in a democracy many people follow a pied piper playing pleasant tunes, no matter how corrupt that person is. Netanyahu hopes that by enacting this flawed statute he can be reelected and can thereby block the corruption charges spelled out, but not yet officially raised against him. His wife, Sarah, has already been indicted for venal corruption.
The ultra-Orthodox deny the democratic equality demanded by the Bible and by the modern Israeli Declaration of Independence. Instead of supporting the biblical law that declares: “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:49) this new statute skirts treating the non-Jewish citizens as dhimmi, Arabic for second-class citizens.
Furthermore, in April Israel passed a law allowing the confiscation of lands from Arabs, even though the Arab owners have decades-old ownership papers for that land. This larcenous law, combined with the new basic law, has placed the Palestinian Arabs under an apartheid system.
The Israeli Supreme Court will find it politically difficult to declare the new basic law illegal. It may find it easier to disqualify the April larcenous law, but that will take time.
Israel will have to reverse this immoral basic law within a few decades, but will do so when confronting harsher political and economic pressures than found today. Having cut Israel off from the Jewish Diaspora and from many members of Western Christianity, Israel will have less political support in the West. In particular, having dealt with its own refugee problems, Europe will place heavier demands upon Israel.
Economically, Israel will be dealing with climate-change developments. The Negev desert is moving north, and Israel will confront many more years of drought. The waters of the Mediterranean Sea will rise and either Israel will have to build Holland-style dykes along the whole coast, or large portions of its population will move inland.
This law presents Israel with an increasingly difficult future.
H. D. Uriel Smith is a Lexington rabbi.