Deep concern about Jewish Nation-State Law

By Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Recent historic events such as the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel as well as the 70 years of “catastrophe” (or Nakba) for the Palestinians of mid-May 2018, have politically put nothing in motion. On the contrary, the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians are deeper than ever. The two communities have been further polarized and their political leaders have not been able to take any initiative at all to find a possible solution to the decades-long conflict. The international community looks at it but does not undertake anything significant. The divisions are structural, fundamental and marked by the occupation of the Palestinian territory for more than 50 years. Moreover, the divisions between the Palestinian factions (Hamas/Gaza and Fatah/West Bank) are further enflamed and politically abused. Recent political developments in Israel make dialogue between Israel and Palestine almost impossible.

Basic Nation State Law

The latest drastic decision is the “Basic Nation State Law” taken by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. That law was adopted by the Knesset 62 in favour, 55 against and 2 abstentions on 19 July 2018. The law defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It has been met with worldwide criticism, including from within the Jewish diaspora.

This new legislation is of great concern and violates democratic principles such as the equality of all citizens. Civil rights should be equal rights. The law fails to provide any constitutional guarantees for the rights of the indigenous and other minorities living in the country. Arabic citizens of Israel, constituting 20%, are flagrantly excluded from the law – such as Arabic/Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Druze, Bedouin residents, etc. We are talking about 1.5 million citizens of Israel who identify themselves as Arab Israeli.

The measure ignores an entire segment of the population as if its members and citizens never existed. It seems non-Jewish people are no longer welcome in Israel. And what then is the position of the many inhabitants in Israel who belong to the Jewish people but do not profess the Jewish religion? The law discriminates among peoples, which means that the dignity of each individual citizen is not respected. The political impact of Jewish religion on Israeli society is more than ever now a reality.

Defining the character of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state weakens the democratic ethos which is supposed to be a key element of Israeli society. The Jewish identity in Israel is increasingly characterised by the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities, for whom ethnic and religious pluralism in “their land” is intolerable. That will result in further fragmentation of their society.

Law encourages further settlement building

The Arabic language has been downgraded from a second official language to a language with “a special status”. The law also declares that the State views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation of such settlements. This strengthens the hand of settlement groups seeking to seize properties from Palestinians and from Christian church properties as well. The existence and further development of settlements in the Occupied Territories is against international law and in contradiction of all related United Nations resolutions. The further intended construction of Jewish settlements is a bridge too far.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity exist in the Holy Land

What will be the impact of the Basic Law for the other religions, including Islam and Christianity? Together with Judaism these two religions form the profile and identity of the Holy Land. One cannot do without the other. They exist and form one important section of the country that is inspired by these three religions. That means that the Holy Land and all the holy places are part of the three religious traditions and cultures. Jerusalem, as holy and eternal city of the three religions, must be shared. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the others. We keep talking of Jerusalem as a city of three religions and two peoples.

Law is exclusive rather than inclusive

The main conclusion is that the Basic Law is rather exclusive than inclusive. It strengthens the institutionalization of racism and dispels hopes of equality. Any state with large minorities ought to recognize the collective rights of minorities and guarantee the preservation of their collective identity, including their religious, ethnic and social traditions. Freedom of religion and religious identity, which are supposed to be guaranteed for all Israeli citizens, is at stake.

Critical opinions are not welcome

In today’s Israel, any criticism of Israeli governmental decisions is labeled as anti-Israeli. Critics are prevented from entering Israel, regardless of their nationality and religion, including Jews. Both Israeli citizens inside the country and Jews and non-Israelis from outside who make critical and constructive remarks against certain measures of this Israeli government are considered anti-Zionist and especially anti-Semitic. We all know someone, a colleague or a friend, who is not allowed to enter the country of Israel because of critical remarks about government policy. This is the tactic of enforcing silence! We all should refuse to surrender the right to speak or fall into the collective complacency of silence. A critical look at political decision-making only benefits the quality of a democracy.

Break the spiral of silence!

As matters now stand, it is the Israeli state that dominates the entire land – exploiting it as its own, and privileging the Israeli Jewish citizens. It seems that Israel does whatever it wants in the West Bank and in Gaza, and they get away with it. Israel no longer even says “sorry” for certain negative impacts of measures taken on Palestinian citizens. Financial support to the Palestinian Authority has been reduced, bringing it dangerously close to bankruptcy. The UNRWA, the UN agency which takes care of the Palestinian refugees, feels the financial crisis. The result is less care and facilities for citizens, in particularly the refugees. The unbearable consequences are that almost no one in Israel, or around the world, lifts a finger or shows sign of even caring.

Without inside and outside pressure allied with fresh thinking, we are unlikely to get any closer towards finding an equitable way to share the land for both Israelis as well as Palestinians.

We all need to keep the struggle high in achieving peace between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people in their independent state, as well as between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. There is no real choice or alternative for the State of Israel to reach peace with Palestinians and its broader neighbourhood as to integrate into the geographical and political region in which it is located. The mission continues!

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