The ink on Israel’s Nationality Law had barely dried before a torrent of accusations and hatred rained down upon the Israeli government like a volley of rhetorical Katyusha rockets. In addition to everything else, apparently Israelis are now not even allowed to have their own nationality.
And yet when one actually reads the short text of the law, titled Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, it becomes clear that there is nothing contained in its language that should give the slightest pause to genuine supporters of Israel, much less to justify the unhinged reaction we have seen from far too many Jews.
To summarize, Israel’s Nationality Law enumerates and declares the following: the connection of the Jewish people to its homeland and its right of self-determination, the name of the state and its national symbols, its capital of Jerusalem and official language of Hebrew. The law also states that Israel will be open for immigration to Jews around the world.
Further, it states that the safety of Jews worldwide will be ensured, that the connection with them will be strengthened and that Jewish heritage will be preserved. It outlines Jewish settlement as a national value and the use of the Jewish calendar alongside the secular one, national holidays such as Independence Day as well as the official days of rest, namely the Jewish Sabbath and holidays. It specifically ensures the right of non-Jews to maintain their own holidays.
The law is thus one that should be considered uncontroversial to all but the most fanatical adversaries of Israel. Beyond the provisions of the law itself, to see just how manufactured the outrage is, it is instructive to take note of the way other nations have passed similar legislation.
Setting aside the specific question of whether or not a Basic Law should have the weight of a constitution within the context of the Israeli legal system, the same types of provisions found in the Israeli Nationality Law are found in the constitutions of numerous other countries.
To focus on one from another Middle Eastern country, consider the constitution of the United Arab Emirates, which is rightly or wrongly considered to be a moderate Arab state by many. In key respects, the Israeli law does not go nearly as far as the UAE’s constitution in delineating the extent of the state’s territorial sovereignty or the nature of its national and religious character.
As can be seen on the Constitute Project website, a resource that provides translation and comparison of national constitutions, Article 4 of the UAE Constitution bluntly goes far beyond anything in the Israeli Nationality Law when it comes to sovereignty by stating that the UAE “may not cede its sovereignty or relinquish any part of its territories or waters.”
Just as the Israeli law speaks about Israel’s connection to world Jewry, Article 6 outlines the UAE’s connection to the broader Arab world, stating that “The UAE is a part of the greater Arab nation to which the UAE is linked by the ties of religion, language, history and common destiny. The people of the UAE are one people, and a part of the Arab nation.”
Not content with the broader type of language connecting the Jewish state to the Jewish religion in the Israeli law, Article 7 declares in no uncertain terms that “Islam is the official religion of the UAE” and “The Islamic Shari’a is a main source of legislation in the UAE.”
Article 7 of the UAE Constitution also declares Arabic to be the UAE’s official language. It makes no mention of any other language, something the Israeli Nationality Law goes out of its way to do with respect to Arabic, which it describes as having a “special status.”
Nonetheless, have you ever heard the UAE Constitution criticized by the paragons of morality who scurry about in the hallways of the UN and the EU? Is its language said to “undermine democracy” or “threaten the future” of the UAE? Does it “deepen a rift” between Arabs of the UAE and those of the larger Arab world?
The mere asking of these questions reveals the absurdity of the hostility that we have seen from the leadership of nominally Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. It also sheds light on the unhealthy relationship many Jews have with their own Jewish identity, which has become a burden for them instead of a source of pride.
Within Israel, most of the opposition to the Nationality Law should be seen for what it is—a collective shriek of post-Zionist angst from the Israeli left and others who seek to weaken the Jewish nature of the state.
As there is nothing in the law’s provisions that is truly out of step with the Zionist ethos of, say, the last 100 years or more, they resort to smearing it in much the same way that they smear the Jewish inhabitants of Judea and Samaria and common sense security measures. They do so by piling heaps of baseless invective upon the object of their hate. It is so often a type of self-hate.
That is not to say that all opponents of the Nationality Law are to be deemed self-hating Jews. Indeed, there is another segment of Israeli society and the broader Jewish world that should know better than to join in this poisonous chorus but finds itself once again ducking for cover in figurative bomb shelters that might as well be plastered with the words “What Will the World Think?” and “This Will Look Bad for Israel.”
The coming period will likely see intensified efforts to delegitimize Israel and undermine its Jewish character by turning this fake controversy into a real propaganda weapon. Now more than ever, the Jewish character of Israel must therefore be defended.
Along with Israeli leaders who may be tempted to give in to the mounting pressure by amending the law or passing another one in an effort to lessen the effect of its language, we would do well to remember one thing as the most venomous voices make themselves heard. It’s not the Nationality Law they really have a problem with, it’s the Jewish state they hate.
By Eric Ruskin
Eric Ruskin is an attorney and a member of the Board of Directors of the Israel Independence Fund.