Photo Credit: wiki
David Ben-Gurion declaring independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism.

The new basic law declaring Israel the nation state of the Jewish people has aroused opposition from three bases:

1] There are those who will oppose in a knee-jerk reaction anything suggested by the Likud Party/Prime Minister Netanyahu, regardless of the merit of the action, law or speech.

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2] Those who oppose any nation-state, including the Jewish nation-state.

3] Those opposed specifically to Zionism, the movement for Jewish national self-determination in its ancient and modern homeland.

We’ll ignore the first type of opposition since it’s based on politics in an irrational manner. Types two and three would prefer to see Israel as a “state of all its citizens”, rather than the Jewish nation-state that also contains a non-Jewish minority. All three types of opposition have their right to express their views, but the final tally that counts is the hands raised in favor in the duly elected parliament of Israel that passed the law with an absolute majority of 62 for and 55 against out of 120 members of Knesset. In contrast the Basic Law Human Dignity and Liberty – the law defending basic democratic civil and social rights, passed just 32 for and 22 against, with less than half of the members of parliament attending the voting.

The new law does not infringe in any civil, political or social rights of the minority populations in Israel. It declares Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, it clarifies the state symbols, the state language, the Hebrew calendar will be an official calendar together with the western calendar, the Jewish holidays are the official holidays of the state with the right for non-Jews to observe their rest-days and holidays – and there is not a word about religion, Orthodox or other. The law does not infringe on the basic law of human dignity and liberty, but acts as a second foundation along the basic civil rights law, buttressing the national Jewish character of the state.

There are those in the Druze community – who are loyal to the state and serve in the IDF – who feel slighted by this law, although it’s been close to impossible for me to understand why. The law doesn’t mention equality – as indeed no law does in Israel for the simple reason that equality is an unclear term – but then not every law mentions the principles of every other law! It’s hard to argue with feelings, especially as they seem clearly not to be based in fact, and indeed not all Druze feel there’s a problem with the law.

The Reform Judaism movement has said, in the person of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, “that the ‘nation-state’ bill … will create a dangerous precedent for democracy in Israel… upend democratic norms and create an Israel that is unequal. It is a grave threat to Israeli democracy. It hurts the delicate balance between the Jewish majority and Arab minority, and it enthrones ultra-Orthodox Judaism at the expense of the majority of a pluralistic world Jewry.”

These are patently false accusations. There is nothing in the law that infringes on democracy, the civil, religious or political rights of minorities, and says absolutely nothing about Orthodoxy! Of course, one should note that out of about ten thousand synagogues less than one hundred are not Orthodox, so democracy would steer towards not giving equal status to a movement that is barely even present in Israel. It would seem that Rabbi Jacobs would prefer that his movement usurp the vast, overwhelming majority. It would also seem that the good rabbi has not read the law, or perhaps he is unfortunately not altogether fluent in Hebrew, tragically like the vast majority of Reform Jews. Whatever – the opposition to the law seem s to based on ignorance of the law.

And there’s the rub! Over the pass few days I have heard many radio interviews with those who loudly proclaim to be opposed to the law, but when asked point blank what exactly in the law irritates them – there is no forth-coming answer; sometimes they admit they haven’t even read the law!

So my good friends, please rest assured that Israel isn’t about to become less democratic. It is what it always has been: the nation-state of the Jewish people with civil rights for all.

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Dovid Ben-Meir was born in Chicago, through no fault of his own. He was a Cubs fan - which prepared him for life in Israel, at it taught him loyalty in the face of adversity. He came on aliyah through free choice and has been here ever since graduating high school. He studied at Merkaz Harav yeshiva and has been a teaching rabbi in Eilat, the Ohr Etzion hesder yeshiva, and for the last decade at the Bnei David post-army yeshiva. He is married to his high school sweet-heart and they have a whole bunch of children and grandchildren.
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