A few notable personalities from the right are joining the wave of condemnation of Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, namely former Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Knesset member Benny Begin. In doing so, they are legitimizing those who wish us harm and who are using the “racist” nation-state law as proof that the Israeli government seeks to implement “discrimination” and “apartheid.”
The main reason they were foaming at the mouth was that the law makes no mention of the equal status and rights of the non-Jewish minorities in Israel, particularly those who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and the other branches of the security establishment. Of course, they are talking about the Druze and the Bedouin. This is a mistake; the nation-state law contains nothing that is designed to minimize the acknowledgment of minorities’ contributions to the state and its defense.
The nation-state law is intended to define the country’s national identity and anchor it constitutionally. It does not address how the government is run, which is a weighty issue, but one that is unrelated to national identity. Starting in the middle of the last century, many countries made radical changes to their forms of government without it affecting their national make-up. That is what happened in Japan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Argentina. Did the regime changes there also revolutionize their citizens’ national identities?
Many of the people who criticize the nation-state law cling nostalgically to the Declaration of Independence and point it out as an appropriate, fitting inspiration for the wording of the law. They forget that although the Declaration of Independence mentions the civil rights of all the citizens in the state, for nearly two decades after it was signed, the Arab minority was under a police regime that seriously limited its liberty and civil rights.
Perhaps we should also mention that in the Declaration of Independence, the word “right” appears 10 times, nine of which refer to the rights of Jews and the Jewish people as a group and a nation. Only once is the word “right” mentioned in the context of civil rights for all citizens.
In effect, all nationalism entails some form of discrimination, because it gives priority to the cultural and national characteristics of one group over those of another. The same is true for the Zionist version of Jewish nationalism. The Star of David emblazoned on the national flag, the national anthem that includes the words “Zion” and “Jewish spirit,” the Hebrew calendar featuring Jewish religious holidays—all these include a certain degree of discrimination against non-Jewish groups in Israel. It’s hard to imagine that non-Jewish citizens fully identify with our national symbols, and it would be unreasonable to expect that they would. But it is definitely appropriate to expect and demand that every citizen living within our sovereign borders respect those symbols.
The nation-state law does not endanger the individual rights of non-Jews in general or those of the Druze and Bedouin in particular. But even if there were grounds to suspect that it did, the nation-state law would not be the place to anchor those rights in law. Another basic law should be written that would be devoted to codifying and ensuring those groups’ rights. What prevents us from passing a Basic Law: Equal Civil Rights?
This is what Arens, Begin and others should devote their energy to. Rather than helping ignite the flames of fear and incitement over the nation-state law, which doesn’t contain even a hint of a doctrine of racial superiority, it would be best if they threw themselves into repairing the needless schism that the opponents of the law have caused.
Martin Sherman is the founder and CEO of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.