In Its Essence, Israel’s Nation-State Law Is about Responsibility

Aug. 10 2018

A professor emeritus of philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and the author of the codes of ethics used by Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the IDF, Asa Kasher has been critical of the present form of the Basic Law passed by the Knesset last month. In particular, he argues that the law “should have stated how it is fully compatible with the principles of democracy, including the equal protection of human dignity and rights”—but, he adds, despite the hysterical arguments of some of its opponents, the law is by no means incompatible with those principles. Kasher in fact finds its underlying purpose praiseworthy, and explains why:

Individually, the state [of Israel] belongs to [its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens] to exactly the same extent. Collectively, however, there is a difference. In Israel, Jews exercise their right to self-determination, [as the new law affirms]. An Israeli Arab desiring Palestinian self-determination will see this collective right implemented when [a Palestinian state] is established. Nothing in his status as an Israeli citizen would change. . . .

Why should there be nation-states in the first place? Rootless cosmopolitanism has not shifted the attitude of millions who want to express their deep ethnic and cultural affiliations through statehood. Naturally, we associate Finland with the Finns, Greece with the Greeks, and Israel with the Jews. . . .

Why should there be a Jewish state rather than a political entity of another nature? Why should the Jews be treated differently from the Finns and the Greeks? There is a national minority of Arabs in Israel, indeed, but there is also a national minority of Swedes in Finland. Is there a difference between Arabs as a minority and Swedes as a minority? Denying rights to Jews that are granted to others is, pace Jeremy Corbyn, yet another form of anti-Semitism. . . .

Is the new law mainly symbolic, or does it have practical consequences? The new law does have practical consequences. I take one word in its text to be its conceptual and moral essence: responsibility. Greece shoulders responsibility for the fate of its citizens, and also for the fate of Greeks everywhere, for example in Cyprus. As the Jewish nation-state, Israel is responsible for the existence, security, and wellbeing of all of its citizens, and also for the fate of the Jews wherever they are.

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Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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