Israel’s Knesset should be applauded for passing the Basic Law entitled “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” last week. This law enshrines 2,000 years of Jewish prayers and the Zionist dream. It states, among other things:
- The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
- The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
- The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
It is deeply disappointing that in addition to hypocritical – even anti-Semitic – Europeans, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) President Rick Jacobs have all criticized this law.
One criticism is that it is “undemocratic.” Yet, many democracies have an official state religion, identity, or preferred religion. For instance, in England – a quintessential democratic country – the Church of England is the established state religion, and the monarch (now Queen Elizabeth II) is the Supreme Governor of the Church.
Other democratic states with an official established religion or church include Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Greece, Greenland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vatican City, and Zambia.
A recent Pew Research Center analysis of 199 countries found that 42% have officially-endorsed faiths or preferred faiths. Forty-three countries have official state religions, and an additional 40 countries have “preferred” religions.
Islam is the official state religion in 27 nations and the preferred religion in another 3 nations. Christianity is the official state religion in 13 countries and the preferred religion in another 28 countries. Buddhism is the state religion in 2 nations and the preferred religion in another 4 nations.
Wikipedia lists 94 nations that incorporate Christian religion into their national anthems, 35 countries that incorporate Islam into their national anthems, and 6 countries (other than Israel) that incorporate other religions into their national anthems.
Furthermore, 64 nations – one third of the world’s nations – incorporate religious symbols into their national flags. Twenty-one nations incorporate Islamic symbols or religious words. Christian symbols are found on 31 national flags. Buddhist or Hindu religious symbols appear on 5 national flags.
Critics of the law (specifically the AJC and ADL) also absurdly attack the law for only making Hebrew, not Arabic, an “official” language in Israel – despite the fact that it accords Arabic special status.
An “official” language acts as an important unifying force for a nation – especially one as diverse as Israel. It is an antidote to division and “apartheid” and helps all citizens advance professionally and economically and fully integrate into the life of the nation.
Making Hebrew the official language makes eminent sense: Some 90% of Israeli Jews, and the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs, speak it fluently.
It is notable that although Israelis speak some 35 languages, the law continues to favor Arabic over the many other native languages spoken is Israel. Russian (the native language of 15% of the population) is spoken approximately as widely as Arabic (the native language of 18% of the population), yet Russian is not an “official” language.
English, too, is widely spoken in Israel, and yet English has never been an “official” language in Israel. Sizable numbers of Israelis also speak Yiddish; Amharic and other Ethiopian languages; French; Ladino; Spanish; German; languages of the Indian Jews (Marathi and Judeo-Malayalam); Bukhori (the language of Bukharin Jews); Farsi, Kurdish (spoken by 150,000 Kurdish Jews), Hungarian, Italian, Vietnamese, and other languages. Yet, none of these languages have the special status granted to Arabic.
Many diverse countries have one official language. In Angola, the official language of Portuguese is only spoken by 71% of the population. In Belize, the official language of English is only spoken by 62.9% of the population. Bhutan’s two official languages are only spoken by 52% of the population. In Bulgaria, the official language of Bulgarian is only spoken by 76.8% of the population. In Burkino Faso, French is the official language although Sudanic languages are spoken by 90% of the population.
Arabic is the sole official language of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria; Tunisia, United Arab Emirates; and Yemen – even though other languages are spoken in quite a few of these countries. Why does no one complain?
Arabic is also widely spoken in various countries where it is not the official language, including Iran and Tanzania. Yet, again, we hear no complaints.
Why is Hebrew the only official language that is objected to? This double-standard smacks of anti-Semitism or a craven Jewish fear of condemnation.