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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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel and the Diaspora, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli politics

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East