Friday, July 27, 2018

Second Thoughts

Israel's Minster of Education - MK Naftali Bennett (Times of Israel)
I’m having second thoughts. When Israel passed it Jewish Nation State law a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was merely a formalization of an existing reality. Israel is in fact a democratic Jewish State. I don’t see how it could – or should - be anything else. That is how any Jew who places any value at all on their Judaism should see it.

Although I saw that law as superfluous, I thought it did not do any harm either.  Others saw it as racist. I thought: How can it be racist if all it says is what is already obvious?

The devil in this case is in the details.

Upon my first reading of those details I saw nothing that made Israel seem racist at all. But others did. Not just the antisemites of the world like Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who called Israel’s leaders fascist  and compared them to Hitler. (How curious it is to see a fascist like Edrogan calling Israel leaders fascist.)

That an antisemite spoke of Israel that way is not surprising. He has been doing that for years at every opportunity But even those that are not antisemites are upset by it. Lucy Aharish, a TV reporter for Israeli television who is both Muslim and Arab - strong defender of the Jewish State said the following: 
“I feel like the state has been taken from me,” she said. “They’re taking the state and excluding me from the community of Israelis that you so want me to belong to. And it hurts me. It hurts me because you’ve excluded me. You’ve excluded me and 20 percent of the population.” 
Lucy Aharish is not someone that Israel should alienate. But it isn’t just one Israeli Arab that feels that way. The Druze community, Israel’s most supportive non Jewish citizens are hurt by it, too. That has caused Minster of Education - MK Naftali Bennett to question it as well. 

Minster Bennett is one of Israel’s most right wing legislators. He is a strong supporter of unfettered expansion of Israeli  settlements all over the West Bank. He makes Israel’s Prime Minister look like a liberal. If he is saying that this law needs to fixed, I don’t think there is any doubt that it should be. Form the Times ofIsrael , here is what he said about it: 
“After discussions with many of our Druze brothers, it has become clear that the manner in which the nation-state law was enacted was very damaging especially to them, and to anyone who has tied their fate to the Jewish state,” Bennett said. “This, of course, was not the intention of the Israeli government.” 
I think he’s right about that. I don’t think the government’s intention was in any way to damage this highly supportive Arab community. I don’t think it was Israel’s intention to harm any of its non Jewish citizens. Which is why I didn’t think it was all that big a deal to formalize into law what was an already existing policy ever since the beginning of the State.

So what is it that bothers everyone so much? It is a matter of interpretation. And when things are subject to interpretation it leaves a lot of room for discrimination. It is one thing to have the situation described in this new law as Israel’s reality. But when you turn it into the equivalent of constitutional law which can be interpreted in discriminatory ways, that causes more harm than good.  Here are some of thing seen as problems From the Times of Israel
Similar to a constitution, the Basic Laws underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws. The nation-state law, proponents say, which became a Basic Law, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.
The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing... 
Here is some of the actual language (in translation form the Hebrew) of this law: 
The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles
The state will strive to ensure the safety of the members of the Jewish people in trouble or in captivity due to the fact of their Jewishness or their citizenship.
The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation. 
It is rather easy to see how this can be interpreted as discriminatory. Even if that was not the intent. That I don’t see it that way doesn’t mean that others don’t.

Which is why in my view that law should not just amended as MK Bennett suggests. It should be repealed. Israel will not lose by doing so. They can still maintain the status quo ante and at the same time regain the respect of its staunchest non Jewish citizens. 

Just my two cents.