Two views of the Jewish na­tion-state bill

Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - • By SHUKI FRIED­MAN

In its newly re­vised ver­sion, the Na­tion­State Bill, which has been prob­lem­atic since its in­cep­tion, reaches new lows by ef­fec­tively aban­don­ing Di­as­pora Jewry. In the word­ing of the bill up for dis­cus­sion by the Knes­set in the next few days, we find that “the state will act in the Di­as­pora to pre­serve the link be­tween the state and the mem­bers of the Jewish peo­ple.” Pre­vi­ously the bill said that state will act to pre­serve the link ev­ery­where – in Is­rael and in the Di­as­pora as well. This le­gal­is­tic turn of phrase has great prac­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance, as it es­sen­tially al­lows the govern­ment of Is­rael to carry out any ac­tion in Is­rael that may harm Jews in the Di­as­pora or Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship with them. This small yet far-reach­ing change was made against the back­ground of the ten­sions with non-Or­tho­dox streams of Ju­daism and the strug­gle to de­fine prayer norms at the Western Wall, and paves the way for the state to ex­clude in­ter­na­tional Jewish sec­tors from the process. The sup­port­ers of the bill claimed that one of its pil­lars was pro­vid­ing a le­gal-con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus to the con­nec­tion of the State of Is­rael with Jews in the Di­as­pora, yet what has emerged is pre­cisely the op­po­site. In­stead of strength­en­ing the bridge with the Di­as­pora, the State of Is­rael is plac­ing more ex­plo­sives be­neath it, which are one day cer­tain to de­stroy it.

This bill is su­per­flu­ous and will do far more harm than good. The main ar­gu­ment made by the bill’s sup­port­ers in the coali­tion is the need for a ba­sic law with con­sti­tu­tional weight, that will de­fine the values and sym­bols that con­sti­tute the ba­sis of Is­rael’s Jewish na­tional foun­da­tions. One such value is the link be­tween Is­rael and Di­as­pora Jewry, and the le­git­i­macy of al­lo­cat­ing state funds for Jews out­side Is­rael’s bor­ders. There is no ques­tion that the link be­tween Is­rael and Di­as­pora Jewry is strong and ob­vi­ous, but now, say the bill’s sup­port­ers, it will have con­sti­tu­tional roots in a ba­sic law, and will be given the recog­ni­tion and sta­tus it de­serves.

In prac­tice, how­ever, once this ba­sic law is passed, Is­rael may well be on the path to aban­don­ing Di­as­pora Jewry. The state, bol­stered by this ba­sic law, and prone to res­o­lute pres­sure by the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox, will be “free” to make decisions in Is­rael that af­fect the en­tire Jewish Peo­ple, with­out hav­ing to con­sider the ram­i­fi­ca­tions on Di­as­pora Jews. Is­rael, which has be­come in­creas­ingly tra­di­tional and na­tion­al­ist in re­cent years, is al­ready less of a home to many Jews around the world. In light of this re­al­ity, it would have be­hooved the govern­ment of Is­rael to take ac­tive steps to draw the Jewish world closer to us. But it has done the op­po­site. In a se­ries of decisions taken by the cur­rent govern­ment dur­ing its years in charge – fore­most among them the can­cel­la­tion of pro­posed ar­range­ments on the Western Wall and con­ver­sion – it has only deep­ened the chasm be­tween Is­rael and the ma­jor­ity of world Jewry. Jews in other coun­tries who take note of the poli­cies of the Is­raeli govern­ment have seen time and again that it couldn’t care less about them.

The re­vised word­ing of the Na­tion-State Bill would an­chor this alien­ation in a con­sti­tu­tional doc­u­ment. The change in lan­guage is de­signed to al­low the govern­ment to con­tinue to pay no heed to Di­as­pora Jewry, and to pre­vent a sit­u­a­tion in which any­one could claim that govern­ment ac­tions or Knes­set leg­is­la­tion that are detri­men­tal to Di­as­pora Jewry are in fact un­con­sti­tu­tional. The law would also cre­ate an ab­surd sit­u­a­tion in which the govern­ment is obliged to act in the in­ter­ests of Di­as­pora Jews out­side of Is­rael, but can ig­nore them en­tirely within the bor­ders of the state. This govern­ment’s pol­icy of dis­re­gard­ing Di­as­pora Jewry is one thing, but es­tab­lish­ing a con­sti­tu­tional ba­sis for such a pol­icy is a far more se­ri­ous mat­ter. It would es­sen­tially be an in­con­tro­vert­ible dec­la­ra­tion by the Knes­set and the govern­ment (al­beit wrapped in fancy pack­ag­ing that makes ref­er­ence to pre­serv­ing the link with Di­as­pora Jewry) that it will not be will­ing to do any­thing for the sake of that re­la­tion­ship that car­ries an in­ter­nal price within Is­rael.

The Na­tion-State Bill con­tains some use­ful clauses, some harm­less ones, and sev­eral that are down­right bad. One clause that had the po­ten­tial to both use­ful and pos­i­tive was the sec­tion re­lat­ing to the link with Di­as­pora Jewry. But now, in its cur­rent form that al­lows the govern­ment of Is­rael to con­tinue with its pol­icy of turn­ing a blind eye and to act as it pleases with no con­sid­er­a­tion for Di­as­pora Jewry – with the back­ing of a ba­sic law – it has been trans­formed from a hand out­stretched in greet­ing to one wav­ing good­bye.

The writer is the di­rec­tor of the Is­rael Democ­racy In­sti­tute’s Cen­ter for Reli­gion, Na­tion and State, and lec­tures in law at the Peres Aca­demic Cen­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.