Why Israel Needs a Nation-State Law

July 24 2018

To much fanfare and controversy, the Knesset last week passed a basic law—a law with de-facto constitutional status—declaring Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people.” The new law’s clauses grant official status to the Hebrew language (while granting unique “special status” to Arabic), the national anthem, and the Israeli flag; others proclaim that the state “will act to encourage and promote” Jewish settlement and “will be open for Jewish immigration.” While some of the law’s critics have claimed, wrongly, that it relegates non-Jews to second-class citizenship and spells the end of liberal democracy in the country, others have contended that it is a wholly unnecessary restatement of what is already in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Emmanuel Navon argues that it is anything but unnecessary:

In 1992, the Knesset passed two basic laws: one on “human dignity and freedom” and one on “freedom of occupation.” Justice Aharon Barak (who presided over the supreme court between 1995 and 2006) proclaimed a “constitutional revolution” after the passing of those two basic laws. What Barak meant was that the High Court of Justice could now strike down laws passed by the Knesset if deemed “unconstitutional” (i.e., incompatible with the two new basic laws). Nowhere in the basic laws does it say that the court is entitled to use them to strike down regular legislation. Yet Barak unilaterally granted that power to the court in a 1995 ruling.

The “constitutional revolution” has affected Israel’s identity as a nation-state. The basic law on “human dignity and freedom” states that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic state.” But what happens when Jewish and democratic values conflict? No problem, Barak wrote in 1992: in case of a conflict, the word “Jewish” shall be interpreted by the court “with the highest level of abstraction.” In other words, it shall be ignored. Theoretically, the court could use in its rulings Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which defines Israel as a Jewish state. Yet the court itself ruled in 1948 that the Declaration of Independence has no constitutional value.

The court’s activism, combined with the “highest level of abstraction” with which Barak interpreted Israel’s Jewishness, was soon to be felt. The court ruled that a Jew cannot purchase a plot of land in a Bedouin village (Avitan case, 1989), but that an Arab can build a house in a village established by the Jewish Agency (Ka’adan case, 2000). The court was petitioned twice by NGOs (in 2006 and in 2012) to cancel Israel’s citizenship law so as to impose on Israel the Palestinian “right of return” through the back door via fictitious marriages. Though the court rejected both petitions, it did so with a razor-thin majority of six to five.

Other laws and symbols related to Israel’s Jewish identity have not been immune from petitions to the High Court of Justice. The “law of return” (which grants automatic immigration rights to Jews) might one day be struck down for being discriminatory; Israel’s national anthem (which expresses the Jews’ two-millennia faithfulness to their land), and flag (which has a Jewish symbol) could be challenged in court for ignoring the feelings of the Arab minority; and taxpayers could petition the court against the spending of their money on the preservation of Jewish identity in the diaspora. Until the passing of the basic law on Israel as a nation-state, the court had no constitutional basis to reject such petitions and to protect Israel’s Jewishness. Now it does.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Aharon Barak, Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli Declaration of Independence, Supreme Court of Israel

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy