A bad bill for the Jewish state
In what has largely been seen as the center-right circling of wagons around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved a controversial bill that would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. Such legislation coming at this time is not in Israel’s best interest.
Sunday’s vote was the result of negotiations within Netanyahu’s own government. Right-wing proponents of the so-called “nation-state bill” agreed to shift their support in a future vote to a “softer” version proposed by the prime minister. His version doesn’t declare Hebrew as Israel’s sole official language and also omits the call for continued settlement within undefined Israeli borders. That does not mean it is good legislation.
Supporters of the bill say Israel’s Jewishness has never been made into law. Opponents say the law gives Jewishness priority over Israel’s dedication to democracy and human rights. One critic said the law will make it easier for discriminatory laws to pass Knesset and stand up in court.
But what is also clear is that the Cabinet vote is little more than a gesture, a defiant poke in the eye against those, such as the Palestinian leadership, who have yet to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something that Netanyahu has demanded as a pretext to further negotiations. Nation-state bills have been suggested by various parties for years. If it was a simple issue, it would have been resolved long ago.
So why bring up such a divisive issue now, while the world is falling apart around us?
While we sympathize with the fact that Netanyahu’s sharpest critics would put democratic principles above Jewish values as the defining core of the country and don’t appear particularly sensitive to Jewish values anyway, the debate today needs to be how to extricate Israel from the security and foreign policy quagmire in which it finds itself. How to synthesize the country’s Jewish character with its democratic ideals must fall behind life-and-death questions.
For these reasons, we oppose the bill on timing, will continue to raise questions about its substance and urge Israel to give itself some time to consider its best course of action.