An unnecessary, harmful, undemocratic and divisive law

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (August 5, 2018) – If you’d like a comprehensive analysis of Israel’s new Nation State Law, I suggest you read Professor Howard Adelman’s analysis. If you’re prepared to settle for only a few impressions, please read on.

The question that troubles me is that nobody has ever doubted that Israel is a Jewish State. So why a law that affirms it? And why now? I can only speculate and suspect.

It was a way of eliminating the term “democratic.” Though its spokespeople have invariably asserted that Israel is a Jewish democratic state, many have asked themselves if “Jewish” and “democratic” are really compatible. The new law gives Jews more rights in the Jewish state than its some two million Arab citizens. Arabic is no longer to be an official language like Hebrew and it’ll be legal to build exclusively Jewish settlements and neighbourhoods. Dare we say it: apartheid?

Netanyahu seems obsessed with being re-elected for another term to beat Ben Gurion’s time in office

The Druze living in Israel who’re Arabs but not Muslims and have always been intensely loyal Israelis, serving in its armed and security forces with distinction, voting in elections for different Jewish parties — and even having Members of Knesset representing those parties — have now realized that the new law will no longer treat them as equals. They’re protesting and demanding full equality, The prime minister has offered them some concessions, but not all are satisfied. As a result, some now fight with each other and others with Mr. Netanyahu. It’s not pretty.

But Netanyahu remains adamant, probably because he’s afraid to be outflanked by other right-wing member of his coalition, notably Naftali Bennet. Which suggests that the law was foisted on the Knesset as part of the prime minister’s preparation for the next general election. He seems obsessed with being re-elected for another term to beat Ben Gurion’s time in office. This may indeed happen if his Likud party will again have a plurality of Knesset mandates, which the polls seem to predict.

However, Likud has also strong liberal roots and some of the old party stalwarts have spoken out forcefully against the law. They include President Reuven Rivlin, even though, in view of his office, he has had to be circumspect in what he said; Moshe Arens, a senior member of the party and a former influential minister who now writes a column in Ha’aretz; Dan Meridor, a former minister of justice; Benny Begin, the son of the late prime minister who’s still a (maverick) Likud member of Knesset.

Even usually favorable public opinion abroad has come out against the law. So has American Jewry: almost across the board, its leaders have expressed their dismay with the new law. But, alas, that doesn’t cut much ice with the prime minister of Israel. He seems to disregard his allies – the Druze, mentors like Arens, friends abroad, indeed the Diaspora – because he believes that Uncle Sam in the guise of Uncle Donald will back him up. For example, the current United States ambassador to Israel seems to identify with everything that’s right-wing in the country, including the settlements.

Is this a clever move on the part of the skilled politician Binyamin Netanyahu or has his craving for power got the better of him? If it has, we haven’t yet seen any serious contender to challenge him, not in his own party, not among the coalition partners and, alas, not in the opposition.

In all this, nothing seems clear and nothing is certain other than the sad fact that the Arab citizens of Israel have been disenfranchised with far reaching, very harmful consequences.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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