Jewish Nation-State Legislation—Israel as a Jewish Nation State
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It appears that Netanyahu was not sufficiently satisfied with trying to out flank his political right wing on strictly security and diplomatic issues, he decided to lead the charge on a fundamental ideological issue; changing the official status of Israel to a Jewish nation state; officially, Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People. While this move does have genuine foreign policy implications—as well as universal implications for Jews the world over—the premise of the bill is largely domestic. It undermines core the values upon the State of Israel was founded; Jewishness, democracy, and human rights. The problem is not the bill which is grossly problematic at its best, but why does Netanyahu feel the need to recreate the foundation upon which Israel was founded by enacting a law which in many respects undermines the essential premises underlying the foundations upon which the State of Israel was created.
In fact, Netanyahu’s effort is totally legitimate, and yet totally absurd. It is axiomatic that Israel is and ought to be understood as a Jewish State. In fact Israel’s Declaration of Independence so declares it to be. From the days of the Balfour Declaration it has been understood by all, that Israel was intended as a Jewish homeland, but not one which lacked a foundation in democratic values; a democratic system granting rights, protections, and guarantees to all its citizens regardless of their faith or beliefs. There simply is no inherent need to enact a piece of legislation except to exacerbate very real tension which is exploding already in Jerusalem and growing throughout the country.
Unfortunately for the State of Israel, certain elements within the governing coalition appear to have convinced the Government of the need to enact this law. Rather than standing up for democratic principles and challenging the right wing of his Likud Party and the Yisrael Beitanu Party to back down or embarrass themselves into forcing a new election, Bibi has joined them rather than confronting them.
As he did in his approach to the peace process, in permitting expansion of settlements, and to excusing expanded Jewish access to the Temple Mount, Netanyahu is only galvanizing world opinion and even world Jewry against Israel’s politics. More and more anti-Israel moves are developing on the world stage—in the EU, at the U.N, on college campuses—and Netanyahu only uses these activities to rationalize his backing extreme, pointless, measures. Bibi blames the world community for Israel’s growing isolation. He says the increase in anti-Semitism is evidence that Israel must strike an independent path, even an unpopular one.
Perhaps, when things get really ugly, Netanyahu may finally back off and decide that maybe he at least partly is to blame for the growing isolation and hostility to Israel. Unfortunately, his own arrogance and petulant behavior may well end up leaving Israel with a significantly smaller number of Jews and friends of Israel supporting his country.