By CHARLES DUNST
(JTA) – On July 19, Israel’s right-wing coalition government passed, by a narrow 62-55 margin, its controversial nation-state law, which declared Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” Scores of liberal critics denounced the measure as an unnecessary and racist provocation, while defenders called it a statement of the obvious.
Akin to a constitutional amendment, the “basic law” declares – much like the country’s Declaration of Independence – that Israel is “the home of the Jewish people.” Unlike the declaration, however, it asserts that Jerusalem is its capital, that Hebrew is its only official language and that national self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people.”
As CNN noted, “Though the law is fraught with controversy and highly symbolic, much of it has little practical impact.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the passage of the law “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel,” while Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Knesset member, denounced it as “the end of democracy” and “the official beginning of fascism and apartheid.”
Reactions to the law reflect the wide divides within Israeli society itself and among observers abroad. Here’s a sampling:
Do Arab citizens have a place in Israel?
The bill “failed to grapple with Palestinians citizens’ insistence that they have a right to live in Israel with full and equal rights, and that they will not give up their Palestinian national identity to do so,” Maha Nassar, an associate professor at Arizona University, said in the Forward. “It’s time that we have a serious conversation about whether it was ever really possible to have a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ that took seriously Palestinians’ national identity and ties to their land.”
Noah Kulwin, senior editor of the left-wing Jewish Currents magazine, said the bill codifies discrimination against Arabs, comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa and noting that the country is “finding common cause with the European far right.”
Stating the obvious
David Hazony, founding editor of The Tower magazine, says the critics are distorting what the bill actually states.
“Building a Jewish homeland – through sovereignty, through culture, and through settlement – has always been the core purpose of the country,” Hazony wrote in the Forward. “The bottom line is that Israel is the Jewish State, and this law tells us what that means, just as other Basic Laws tell us what goes into its democratic foundations.”
Avi Dichter, the Likud party Knesset member who sponsored the bill, suggested it was meant as a response to Arabs – both Israeli citizens and living in the West Bank – who believe that Israel would one day become a binational state of all its people.
“We are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizens,” he said.
In remarks to the Knesset, Dichter responded to members of the Joint List, the Arab Israeli bloc in the parliament.
“When I listened attentively to the Joint List MKs, it was impossible to miss their clear words: ‘We, the Arabs, will win, we are in our homeland, we were here before you and we’ll be here after you.’ This Basic Law is the clear-cut answer to those who think that and it is clear: You were not here before us and you will not be here after us,” he said.
Jewish and democratic? Jewish or democratic?
The arguments on both sides get at an implicit tension that has hounded Israel since its founding in 1948: The Jewish state, founded as such, wants to privilege and shelter Jews and explicitly be a homeland for the Jewish people while simultaneously maintaining a democracy that supports all of its citizens – non-Jews included. Israel aimed to tolerate its minorities in a way the world, including Europe and the Middle East, had not previously tolerated Jews.
The tensions are seen in the Declaration of Independence.
Israel’s foundational text is fiercely ethnonationalistic, saying that the recognition of Israel by the United Nations General Assembly “is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.”
At the same time, the declaration ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Riding a wave of ethnic nationalism
Max Fisher of The New York Times insists that the bill puts Israel firmly on the nationalist side of the equation, comparing countries like Hungary that “have overtly embraced an old-style national identity, with leaders championing the ethnic origins of the state, warning darkly of foreigners and curtailing basic rights.”
Fisher also cites polling in Israel that suggests Jewish identity is winning out over democracy.
“Those who say Israel should be Jewish first overwhelmingly belong to the political right, which pushed through this week’s national self-determination law,” he wrote. “But even those who say democracy should prevail express support for some caveats. In 2014, most Jews said that ‘crucial national decisions’ – like, say, self-determination – should be left to the Jewish majority.”
Words have meaning
Israel still remains a democracy, with Freedom House deeming the Jewish state a fundamentally free “multiparty democracy with strong and independent institutions that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population,” referencing political moves against minorities. There is a large Arab bloc in the Knesset, and a robust NGO culture of Jews and Arabs that promotes a “shared society” for all Israelis.
And the nation-state bill won’t change that in a single stroke. Still, “the law could eventually have far-reaching implications for Jewish-Arab relations within Israel and for Israeli-Palestinian relations,” wrote Dov Waxman, professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northwestern University.
Gila Gamliel, Israel’s minister for social equality, said July 23 on Israeli TV that the nation-state law will act as a counterweight to a previous Basic Law that enshrines human rights, freedom and dignity. That law, Gamliel said, ensures Israel’s democratic character and this law will place the state’s Jewish character on the same level.
As an example, Gamliel suggested that the nation-state law could give greater legal force to Israeli government efforts to deport African asylum seekers from Israel, presumably in order to safeguard Israel’s Jewish character. Previous laws targeting asylum seekers have been struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court on the basis of the Human Freedom and Dignity Law.
“The Human Freedom and Dignity Law in the State of Israel stands alongside the nation-state law, intelligently and correctly,” Gamliel said. “In that context, one of those things won’t come at the expense of the other. The nation-state law is not meant to hurt any citizen of the State of Israel.”
But Waxman wrote that the law contains no “recognition of the presence of a Palestinian-Arab minority in Israel.”
“On the contrary, the new law implicitly denies their very existence as an indigenous national minority that also has a legitimate claim to national self-determination, or at least collective rights. In doing so, the nation-state law will only anger, and further alienate, Israel’s Arab citizens. The message the law sends to them is unequivocal: This state is not yours and this land does not belong to you.”
Amir Fuchs, an expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, told The New York Times that even if the law is only declarative and won’t change anything in the near future, “I am 100 percent sure it will worsen the feeling of non-Jews and especially the Arab minority in Israel.”
Lucy Aharish, an Arab-Israeli newscaster who b
roadcasts in Hebrew, offered a fiery monologue against the law on Monday, July 23.
“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.”
Israeli show satirizing students in the US who give blind support to Hamas
If you want to take a break from the tension that comes with following every bit of news associated with Israel’s war on Hamas watch this hilarious video satirizing the stupidity of US college kids who give unqualified support to Hamas: https://twitter.com/LeviYonit/status/1721272323087401428?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1721272323087401428%7Ctwgr%5E833a2a425e6d7029d6ef37b7c9042c1d81dbf8ba%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fisraeli-satire-shows-mocking-of-us-student-support-for-hamas-goes-viral%2F
Report from Israel
By BRUCE BROWN (Posted Nov. 4) Rehovot, Israel
What was once considered relatively banal is no longer routine. With Israel at war and all.
Last Friday we decided to go out for dinner, a quick bite in Tel Aviv. At our Favorite hamburger joint – Prozdor and highly recommended next time you, dear reader, visit Israel. Whether even to go was driven by unusual considerations. Do we really want to leave the relative safety of our abode, where our den-cum-saferoom is only a few steps away. And enter Tel Aviv, which seems to absorb the brunt of evening missile barrages. And what about the twenty minute drive – need to refresh the Homefront command instructions on how best to respond should missiles fly overhead while driving.
Once agreed that we need the distraction. A break from the routine of another evening at home, watching the news and waiting for missiles to fall. We then argued about who should drive, the determining factor being who would be calmest at the wheel should we encounter a missile on the way. My daughter, an ex-combat soldier, was voted designated driver. Although I still think I’m pretty cool under fire. During the drive, we nervously exchanged scenarios about where best to pull over -there are some stretches of highway without a shoulder- and how far from the car we should scramble. If the situation should occur.
Then once we arrived at Prozdor. The first thing we did was stake out the nearest bomb shelter. The kindly restaurateur pointed out the shelter across the road, next to a parking lot and beneath a hotel. In Tel Aviv you have ninety seconds to reach safety. Seems doable. Better be doable!
And while usually a bustling place, the restaurant was barely a third full. People just not venturing out these days. Because of safety considerations, who wants to get blown up while eating a hamburger. How banal is that?! And anyway the nation is really not in the mood for enjoying a good burger. Well except for us and a few others looking for a diversion from the monotony of another evening at home in war time.
Our meal arrived. As did the missiles. Was enjoying my first bite with a couple french fries when the siren sounded. And in a surprisingly orderly fashion, after all we are Israelis, together with forty other diners we cautiously walked round the tables, out the door, down the steps and across the street into the bomb shelter. Strangers. Huddled together. Texting family and friends with an ‘all safe’ message. Ten minutes later we walked back across the street, up the steps, into Prozdor, around the tables and to our waiting meals. A bid colder but still tasty. Amazing how a bit of existential excitement can trigger the taste buds.
On the way home we stopped at Dizengoff Square. To view a very haunting war display which literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. It pays tribute to the victims of the October 7th Black Shabbath-Simcha Torah massacre. Including for the more than 240 hostages. Most jarring was the bloodied and blindfolded stuffed teddy bear display. Around thirty of them. One for each of the child hostages held by the brutal and cowardly Hamas. Painful. Sickening.
Driving home in silence, each with our own thoughts of the tragedy behind us. And the long haul ahead of us. On the radio melancholy songs played in the background. As if a score to a sad movie. Two songs in particular struck a chord. Played back-to-back. Their meaning and associations forever changed. George Harrison’s My Guitar Gently Weeps: “I look at the world / And I notice, It’s turning / While my guitar gently weeps / With every mistake / We must surely be learning / Still my guitar gently weeps…” Followed by Paul McCartney’s Blackbird: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / You were only waiting for this moment to be free / Blackbird fly, blackbird fly / Into the light of a dark black night…”
Arriving home. Drained of all energy. From the not-so relaxing hamburger dinner. From the emotionally exhausting war exhibit. From the background music accompanying the evening’s tempo. I went straight to bed for another fitful and sleepless night. Desperately hoping to awake to just an ordinary day….
Now walking the dog should for sure be very routine. But it too can become a memorable war experience. Turning into a ‘run-against-the-clock for simple safety’ event. The other evening my wife was out walking Poncho. She just collected his poop when a missile alert went off. Incoming! Ninety seconds to find a safe spot. She decided to pick up our pooch and make a mad dash to our saferoom. Through the lobby and up four flights of stairs (no elevator at such times). Making it just in time. We all stumbled into our shelter. My daughter. And I. My wife. The pooch. And the poo. In her extreme focus to reach safety, the wife forgot to throw the doggy doo into the garbage bin. Gave us a moment’s respite. Some laughter. At the banality of it all!
With the pool at the country club still closed due to Homefront command considerations. You can’t hear a siren while swimming the breaststroke. I’ve since started a new routine of very early morning walks. But even walking is different these days. Jumpy every time a white pick-up truck drives by (vehicle of choice for the despicable Hamas terrorists). To the uplifting sight of our blue & white flags hanging from balconies and windows along my route. Like an early Independence Day. Barely blowing in the barely non-existent wind of our too dry and too warm winter. The weather possibly another victim of this war. Late to arrive due to the billowing clouds of smoke arising from Hamas missile fails and targeted IAF missile strikes inside Gaza.
Blackbird singing in dead of night while my guitar gently weeps.
Bruce Brown. A Canadian. And an Israeli. Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago. He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Bruce is the winner of the 2019 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing. And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is…. Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal. With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.
An appeal for help for under-supplied Israeli soldiers from former Winnipegger Jared Ackerman
By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted Oct. 18) first met Jared Ackerman in 2013 when I had the good fortune to interview Jared, along with 4 other students from Winnipeg, when they were all studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (You can still see that interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6k8svB2j-0.)
Jared had gone on to serve in the Israeli army. He just posted this impassioned plea for help for Israeli soldiers:
My name is Jared Ackerman and I’m an IDF veteran that served in the Paratroopers (Tzanchanim). I live in Atlanta and have come together with a group of Israelis from across the US, Canada, and Israel to provide an emergency shipment of urgent supplies to the front lines in Israel.
As of right now over 3.5 tons of purely defensive gear (ceramic plates, vests, helmets, medical kits) have been sourced and paid for. We have everything in a warehouse in Toronto, Canada ready to ship to Israel and are continuing to purchase more.
The first units to respond on October 7th have since been totally ransacked of equipment. They were the first ones to arrive at the kibbutzim and Nova on the Gaza border and they are actually withholding extra reserves from joining the warfront because they do not have enough equipment. This is particularly problematic as they lost soldiers in the battle, and many more were injured.
Our next step is to secure additional funding to fly the gear over to Israel via cargo jet.
As of today, no commercial flights are allowing any tactical gear to be shipped and the only option is private cargo planes. We are also working to secure more equipment to justify the high cost of chartering the plane.
I have attached photos and a video here of the equipment that has been sourced and ready to ship from the warehouse.
We have all relevant approvals in Israel with the Ministry of Defense and a logistics hub ready to go to distribute the protective and medical goods.
Timing is of the essence as units are already in the field with below par equipment.
100% of the funds raised are going towards the purchase of equipment and shipment to Israel and not to operational costs as everything is voluntary.
Please use the link below if you are able to donate anything and help get this gear to the front lines. Please also feel free to DM if you can help source any additional equipment or have any connections with securing a cargo plane or have any questions!
Am Yisrael Chai