November 16, 2018

Concerned Jews of America, Here Are Answers to Your Pledge

A “Pledge” against Israel’s new nation-state law was recently put online (here) by eight organizations: T’ruah (the rabbinic call for human rights), the New Israel Fund, J-Street, Ameinu, American for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women, Partners for progressive Israel, and the Union for Reform Judaism. According to the text of the pledge,Sixty-two members of Knesset voted to approve the Nation-State Law, which denigrates minorities within Israel, as well as Jews outside of Israel. Take the pledge to hold these MKs to account for their vote, which threatens democracy and equality in Israel, by demanding answers from them.”

The pledge also states that “If any of the 62 Members of Knesset who voted for the Nation-State Law speak in my community, or at a conference I am attending, or on a delegation I participate in, I will ask these questions.  Those questions are listed below.  

Even though I am not a member of Knesset, the following questions are also addressed to me since I am a senior fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum (the think tank that initiated and promoted the nation-state law) as well a member of the Likudparty.  Had I been a member of Knesset, I would have voted in favor of the nation-state law.  Below are my answers to the questions asked by the above organizations. Those questions and answers address key disagreements between the Israeli government and liberal American Jews.

  
1. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex and “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

• Do you believe that non-Jewish citizens of Israel deserve all of the same rights as Jewish citizens of Israel? 

Yes, except for the right to national self-determination within the territory of the state.   Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants the right to national self-determination within the State of Israel only to the Jewish people, but it also grants equal civic rights to all citizens regardless of their ethnic or religious identity.  Here are six quotes from the Declaration of Independence which prove that the State of Israel reserves the right to national self-determination, within its borders, to the Jewish people:

“In 1897, the Zionist Congress convened by Theodore Herzl proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in its land.”
“The Jewish people has a natural right to national self-determination, like any other people.”
“We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.”
“The State of Israel shall be open to Jewish immigration and to the ingathering of the exiles.”
We call upon the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to unite around Israel, via immigration and construction, and to stand by Israel to achieve the age-old vision of Israel’s redemption.”
“Placing our trust in the Rock of Israel, we hereby sign the present declaration … in the homeland.”  

While the Declaration of Independence reserves the right to national self-determination to the Jewish people, it also grants equal civic rights to all citizens regardless of their identity.  The Declaration states that Israel shall “guarantee completely equal political and social rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion, race, or sex.”  

The principles of exclusive national self-determination and of equal civic rights are not incompatible.  Israel’s flag only has a Jewish symbol; Israel’s national anthem sings the Jewish longing for Zion; Israel’s law of return privileges Jewish immigration; the Bedouins cannot declare national independence in the Negev desert, nor can the Arabs in the Galilee.  Yet all citizens of Israel can vote and be elected to the Knesset; they can all become judges at the Supreme Court;and all are eligible to the same social benefits.  Indeed, thereare Arab members of Knesset as well as Arab Supreme Court justices, and there is a Druze minister in the government.  All citizens receive the same benefits from the National Insurance Institute whether they are Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, etc.  

Israel is not alone in being altogether a nation-state and a democracy.  Most European countries are.  No less than seventeen members of the European Union (EU) have a constitution that proclaims sovereignty in the name of the country’s majority nation: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

Americans and Canadians are generally unaware of the fact that their country is the exception and not the rule in not being a nation-state.  To most Europeans, by contrast, being altogether a nation-state and a democracy is self-evident.

The nation-state law preserves and enshrines the rights of minorities.  It officializes the “special status” of the Arabic language (Article 4) and it recognizes to Israel’s minorities the right to rest on their religious and/or national holidays and days of rest (Article 10).          

• If so, why did you vote for the nation-state bill, which pointedly disenfranchises Israel’s minorities and never once uses the words “equality” or “democracy”?

The nation-state law does not disenfranchise Israel’s minorities.  Reserving the right to national self-determination to the state’s majority nation was recognized as a legitimate and universal right by the League of Nations after World War One.  It is based on this right that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was replaced by nation-states, and that the Ottoman Empire was replaced by mandates in which nations (including the Jews) were to eventually achieve their independence.  

The nation-state law completes Israel’s constitutional order.  Israel does not have a constitution but only “basic laws”which were granted constitutional status by the Supreme Court.  Constitutions generally codify three principles: a. The purpose and identity of the state; b. The separation of powers; c. The fundamental rights of citizens.

Israel already has basic laws that define the separation of powers (such as Basic law: the Knesset) and that protect fundamental rights (such as Basic law: Human Dignity and Freedom).  Israel did not have a basic law on the purpose and identity of the state.  Now it does.

Israel’s nation-state law does what most European constitutions do: it specifies that the right to self-determination belongs to the majority nation; it describes the flag; and it codifies the country’s official language, national anthem, and national holidays.   The new nation-state law isthe equivalent of a few articles in European constitutions.  The new basic law does not replace other basic laws but completes them.  It is not a constitution but an addition to an incomplete constitutional order.

The new basic law is no different in content from the articles of European constitutions related to the state’s identity.  As explained above, seventeen European constitutions proclaim the country’s sovereignty in the name of its majority nation.

Nineteen European constitutions describe the country’s flag (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain).  Twelve European countries have a cross on their flag (Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK).  

Sixteen European constitutions specify that the country hasone (and only one) official language (Austria, Bulgaria,Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain).

Thirteen European constitutions codify their national anthem (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia).

Accusing Israel’s nation-state law of not dealing with the rights of minorities is like accusing Article II of the French constitution (which codifies the official language, the flag and the national anthem) of not dealing with the separation of powers.  Different articles of a constitution relate to separate issues.  So, too, Israel’s basic laws.  Equality, democracy, and the separation of powers are already codified by other basic laws.  Basic Law: The Knesset deals with the separation of powers, not with the state’s identity.  Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom deals with freedom, not with the separation of powers. Basic Law: Nation-State deals with the state’s identity, not with rights or with the separation of powers.  All of Israel’s basic laws have an equal constitutional status; none is replaced or superseded by others.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence never once uses the word “democracy.”  Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom never once uses the word “equality.”  Why does the absence of those words arouse concern only when it comes to Basic Law: Nation-State?  The principle of equality before the law is enshrined in the jurisprudence of Israel’s High Court of Justice, and it is neither undermined nor diminished by the nation-state law.  The nation-state law grants constitutional status to the Jewish right to national self-determination proclaimed by Israel’s Declaration of Independence.  Doing so was necessary because the High Court of Justice ruled back in 1948 that the Declaration of Independence does not have the status of a law or of a constitution.      

2. Defenders of the Nation-State Law say it provides a necessary legal defense of Israel’s Jewish character. 

• Can you explain what you perceive to be the threat to Israel’s Jewish character that necessitated this new law? 

Passing the nation-state basic law was necessary because of the judicial activism of Israel’s High Court of Justice in the past two decades.

In 1992 and 1994 the Knesset passed two basic laws: one on “human dignity and freedom” and one on “freedom of occupation.” Justice Aharon Barak (who presided the Supreme Court between 1995 and 2006) proclaimed a “constitutional revolution” after the passing of those two basic laws. What Barak meant was that the High Court of Justice could now strike down laws passed by the Knesset if deemed “unconstitutional” (i.e. incompatible with the two new basic laws).  Nowhere in the basic law does it say that the court is entitled to use them to strike down regular legislation. Yet Barak unilaterally granted that power to the court in a 1995 ruling. 

The “constitutional revolution” has affected Israel’s identity as a nation-state.  The basic law on “human dignity and freedom” states that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic state.” But what happens when Jewish and democratic values conflict? No problem, Barak wrote in 1992: In case of a conflict, the word “Jewish” shall be interpreted by the court “with the highest level of abstraction.” In other words, it shall be ignored. Theoretically, the court could use in its rulings Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which defines Israel is a Jewish state. Yet, as explained before, the court ruled in 1948 that the Declaration of Independence has no constitutional value.

The Court’s activism, combined with the “highest level of abstraction” with which Barak interpreted Israel’s Jewishness, were soon to be felt. The Court ruled that a Jew cannot purchase a plot of land in a Bedouin village (Avitan case, 1989), but that an Arab can build a house in a village established by the Jewish Agency (Ka’adan case, 2000). The Court was petitioned twice by NGOs (in 2006 and in 2012) to cancel Israel’s citizenship law so as to impose on Israel the Palestinian “right of return” through the back door via fictitious marriages. Though the Court rejected both petitions, it did so with a razor-thin majority of six to five.

• Can you name any way in which this law actually accomplishes this stated goal? 

Part of Aharon Barak’s “constitutional revolution” was also to repeal the standing (or locus standi) principle (i.e. the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case), and to declare that the Court may be petitioned on any issue and not only on legal ones (“anything is justiciable” was Barak’s formula).  As a result, NGOs (many of them funded by the New Israel Fund) petition the Court to challenge laws and government decisions which they deem unfit to their political agendas.  This phenomenon undermines the principle of national sovereignty and it constitutes a threat to laws, decisions and symbols that make Israel a nation-state.  

Laws and symbols related to Israel’s Jewish identity are not immune from petitions at the High Court of Justice. The “law of return” (which grants automatic immigration rights only to Jews) might one day be struck down for being discriminatory; Israel’s national anthem (which expresses the Jews’ two-millennia faithfulness to their land) and flag (which only has a Jewish symbol) could be challenged in court for ignoring the feelings of the Arab minority; and taxpayers could petition the court against the spending of their money on the preservation of Jewish identity in the Diaspora. Until the passing of nation-state basic law, the court had no constitutional basis to reject such petitions and to protect Israel’s Jewishness. Now it does.

3. One of the consequences of the Nation-State Law was to create a needless crisis with Israel’s Druze citizens. 

• Despite their generations of service and sacrifice for Israel, do you not see the Druze as equal citizens and partners in Israel’s society and future? 

The Druze are equal citizens and partners in Israel’s society and future like other Israeli citizens.  They enjoy all the civic rights granted by the state.  But they do not have a right to national and territorial self-determination within the borders of the State of Israel.  They cannot, for example, declare an independent state in the Golan Heights.  The same restrictions exist in other democratic nation-states.  The Catalans and the Basques are equal citizens of the Spanish kingdom, but they are constitutionally barred from declaring their national independence (as the Catalans can testify).  Likewise, the Corsicans are equal citizens of the French Republic, but they do not have a right to national self-determination under the French Constitution.  The list goes on.

Ayoob Kara, Israel’s Telecommunications Minister, is Druze.  He voted in favor of the law because, he said, “If there were no Jewish state, we Druze would be massacred just like in Syria.  The Jewish state of Israel is the only Middle East country where the Druze and the Arabs are free.”  The Druze are not the only minority in Israel to feel that way.  ShakiKhalloul, Chairman of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association is a vocal supporter of the nation-state basic law:“It is only because it is Jewish that Israel is democratic and that we Aramaic Christians are free” he explained.  Thesepeople feel that they are equal citizens and partners in Israel’s society and future precisely because Israel is a Jewish state.

It would be misleading to describe the demonstration (on August 4th, 2018) of Druze leaders and citizens against the nation-state law as a spontaneous and a-political one.  The demonstration was organized by NGOs such as “ANU.”  ANU, which receives funding from the New Israel Fund and from the European Union, wrote on its websites two lies about the nation-state law: a. That it cancels the principle of civic equality (it doesn’t); b. That it justifies the unequal distribution of national resources (it doesn’t either).  ANU also wrote on its website that “The Israeli government purposely undermines the international right of minorities to national self-determination.”  As explained before, there is no such “international right,” and the national self-determination of minorities explicitly rejected by most European constitutions.  But ANU’s endgame is clear: it advocates the national self-determination of minorities in Israel, which would enable the Druze to claim sovereignty in the Golan, the Bedouins in the Negev, and the Arabs in the Galilee.  This would spell the territorial disintegration of the State of Israel. 

So the crisis with the Druze community was not created by the law but by political NGOs that spread lies about the law.

• If you do, why did you vote for the Nation State Law and what will you now do to repair this damage? 

No damage was caused by the law, and therefore no damage needs to be repaired.  Yet the government has agreed to address the concerns expressed by certain Druze leaders.  After meeting with leaders of the Druze community, the Prime Minister has agreed to promote legislation that shall anchor the status of the Druze and Circassian communities, and that shall provide benefits to members of minority groups who serve in the security forces.  The law will also institutionalize financial support for Druze education and culture.  It was also agreed that existing basic laws shall be amended so as to recognize the contribution made by all minorities and communities that participate in the defense of the country.

4. The provisions of the Nation-State Law, which you supported, also discriminate against Israel’s non-Orthodox Jews.

• Do you understand that this alienates the majority of American Jews, damages their connection to Israel and weakens overall support for Israel in the United States?
• Does this concern you?

Do you understand that the above statement (point #4) is factually wrong?

The nation-state law does not discriminate against Israel’s non-Orthodox Jews.  The English translation of the law is available online here.  I challenge you to show me what article of the law discriminates against Israel’s non-Orthodox Jews.  People are entitled to their own opinions about this law, but they are not entitled to their own facts.  Those who make up unfounded accusations, without even bothering to read the text of the law, have only themselves to blame for grievances that are not grounded in fact.  

The nation-state law officializes Israel’s responsibilities toward Diaspora Jews regardless of their religious affiliation (or lack thereof).  Far from driving a wedge between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, the nation-state basic law institutionalizes the link and mutual responsibility between Israel and Diaspora Jews.  Article 6 of the law says the following: a. The State shall strive to ensure the safety of members of the Jewish People and of its citizens, who are in trouble and in captivity, due to their Jewishness or due to their citizenship; b. The State shall act, in the Diaspora, to preserve the ties between the State and members of the Jewish People; c. The State shall act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish People among Jews in the Diaspora.

Israel’s ultra-orthodox legislators had strong reservations about Article 6 precisely because it includes all Jews.  Article 6(c) implies that the State of Israel shall share the cost of Jewish education in the Diaspora, with no distinction between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.  Ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset opposed that clause because they did not want their taxpayer money to go to Reform of Conservative Jews in America.  Yet the article was approved despite their opposition.  

So what concerns me is the fact that some people do not eventake the time to read a one-page bill, make up false claims about it, and then get upset because of their own unfounded accusations.  If we want to have an honest and rational debate, it must be grounded in facts. 

5. Many critics feel that the Nation-State Law – and others the current Knesset has passed – move Israel further from the family of Western liberal democracies, and closer to so-called “illiberal democracies” like Hungary and Poland.  That view is reinforced by Israeli leaders’ rhetorical attacks on Arab citizens of Israel, the judiciary, the media and civil society organizations. Many American Jews feel Israel is becoming less and less recognizable to them as the country they thought they knew and long supported. 

• Does this concern you? If so, what do you propose to do about it?

When you say that the Knesset has passed laws that “move Israel further from the family of Western liberal democracies,”can you give examples?  One example?  Claims must be backed by facts.  Unlike Poland, Israel has not passed a law that restricts the independence of the Supreme Court and of its judges.  Unlike Hungary, Israel has not passed a law that criminalizes assistance to illegal immigrants.  So when you say “many critics feel,” you are indeed expressing a feeling but not a fact.    

Legislation and public debate on issues such as the handling of illegal work migrants, the separation of powers, or the funding of NGOs, are not “rhetorical attacks.”  On those three issues, the following clarifications are called for.

Like many European countries, Israel has a large number (in proportion to its total population) of illegal work migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan.  Courts in Switzerland and in the United Kingdom have recently ruled that most Eritreans are not political refugees and can therefore be sent back to their country.  But when Israel considered a similar move, it was harshly criticized for “deporting refugees.”

The separation of powers in Israel was never clearly defined by a written constitution (which Israel lacks) and was profoundly reshaped by Aharon Barak’s “constitutional revolution.”  Many experts are of the opinion that the constitutional revolution has gone too far by replacing the separation of powers with a hierarchy of powers in which judges, not the Knesset, have the last word.  Some have suggested to remedy this imbalance by introducing reforms inspired from Canada (where parliament can re-legislate bills struck down by the Supreme Court) or from the United Kingdom (where the Supreme Court cannot strike down laws but can only recommend their amendment).  Debating issues of constitutional law and proposing reforms inspired from Britain and Canada (none of which can be accused of being “illiberal democracies”) do not constitute “rhetorical attacks” on the judiciary and does not move Israel away from the family of Western liberal democracies.  

As for NGOs, they have in recent years made full use of the “constitutional revolution” (which, as explained before, has repealed the standing principle and has declared that no issue is beyond the Court’s jurisdiction).  When such NGOs get most of their funding from foreign governments, they undermine the principle of national sovereignty.  In 2016, Israel passed a law that makes it mandatory for NGOs that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments to make that information public.  Israel is not the only country faced with the phenomenon of NGOs that take an active part in domestic politics with foreign funding.  It is precisely to protect itself from such foreign interference that the US Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which make it mandatory for lobbyists with non-US funding to register as foreign agents at the Department of Justice.  In January 2015, Congress introduced a new directive making it mandatory for NGOs to specify what percentage of their funding comes from foreign governments.

All this goes to show that Israel faces complex issues like other democracies.  Indeed, Israel faces bigger challenges because it is a democracy at war.  Yet the measures taken or considered by Israel to face those challenges are no different than the ones adopted by the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or Switzerland.  Israel should be judged by the same standards as other Western democracies, not by higher ones.  And criticism of Israel, or of any other country for that matter, should be grounded in facts –not in narratives. So should the dialogue between Israel and US Jewry.


Dr. Emmanuel Navon is a political scientist and foreign policy expert who lectures at Tel-Aviv University (TAU) and at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).  He is a senior fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum (a public policy think tank) and at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (a foreign policy think tank), and an analyst for i24news (an Israel-based international TV channel).  His upcoming book is The Star and the Scepter: A Diplomatic History of Israel.

In support of Israel’s national identity bill

The collapse of the Netanyahu government is very much the tragedy of a death foretold. The tensions in the coalition were inherent from the beginning. But new legislation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to introduce may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The proposed legislation, which would define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, is an attempt to finally produce the Israeli equivalent of a Constitution, establishing the guiding principles for the state’s governance. The document itself is short — barely a page long — and expressed in very simple language.

It affirms some very basic principles — principles that have been widely recognized as fundamental to the state’s existence and have been largely taken for granted over the past 67 years, including reference to the land of Israel as the historic home of the Jewish people, its right to self determination and an affirmation that at the state’s very foundation are the notions of freedom, justice and peace.

The question is, why now? What has impelled Netanyahu to risk his government over something that is widely accepted in the country anyway?

The answer is multidimensional but can probably be redacted to a few key words: the need to set both a vision and a purpose for the country.

In rapid succession over the past 20 years, the concept of the legitimacy of a Jewish state has come under pounding internal assault — first in the 1990s from Israel’s post- Zionist historians, then from the Israeli Supreme Court under Chief Justice Aharon Barak; following that, from a raft of post-9/11 campus radicals; and finally from the Palestinian Authority itself, which is now successfully leading the world in its delegitimization efforts. They have attempted to chip away at the foundational legitimacy of the Jewish state, declaring any religious affiliation of the state to be racist and buttressing accusations of a reversion to South African-style apartheid. Forgotten, of course, is that most Arab countries in the region define themselves as Islamic states, and Israel is far and above the only country in the Middle East to extend true legal protections to its minorities.

From the state’s very beginnings, it has been debated whether Israel should be governed as a Jewish state or as a state of all its citizens. No one has forgotten that there is a sizable minority — a little more than 20 percent — of non-Jews living in the country, including a broad mix of Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, Thais, Filipinos and Russians.

The question has never been completely resolved, and in the absence of a Constitution (which was once attempted but abandoned when the tension over the religious character of the state scuttled the effort), the country has been legally held together by the passage of a series of Basic Laws, which govern such controversial subjects as Sabbath observance, marriage, death, conversions and immigration.

But now, as one European country after another lines up to recognize a Palestinian state outside of an internationally sanctioned peace agreement, the government of Israel can probably see the writing on the wall. Just as Palestinians have elected not to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, so will the international community be goaded into following suit when it finds Israel doggedly resistant to the demands for the establishment of an implacable foe on its doorstep.

Opponents of the new law have mounted a vigorous attack upon it, declaring it at odds with the democratic nature of the state.

It’s a curious argument, as our modern understanding of the concept of democracy is government sanctioned by the majority. The democratic nature of a state is not destroyed when the majority elects a government that seeks to affirm the nation’s identity and character.

In addition, the bill takes great pains to stress that the state will uphold the individual rights of all its citizens according to law; that the state will act to enable all residents of Israel, regardless of religion, race or nationality, to preserve their culture, heritage, language and identity; and that members of recognized faiths shall be entitled to rest on their Sabbath and holidays.

No discrimination against any non-Jews there.

But there is another important argument to make. There are those critics who portray democracy as a sacred totem to which all human beings must bow in worship, even when the existence of that ideal conflicts with the expressions of a nation’s identity or even its national security. However, even the West’s greatest philosophers and most fervent proponents of democracy never believed that there was a perfect representative system that would ensure the interests of all citizens within any given polity would be completely represented. How could it be logically so when democracy is the rule by majority vote? To put it starkly, in any democracy, there will always be tension between a majority mandate and minority aspirations. They are in constant balance and at times the balance will shift unfavorably against the minority.

We are well aware, after all, of the flaws in American representative government and how hard it is to guarantee that any law passed by Congress will not at one time or another be tipped against one particular minority or group of individuals. We cannot forget that a small country such as Israel, with a population
1/39 the size of the U.S. population, is a unique experiment in world history and as a Jewish sovereign democratic state — the first in 2,000 years — cannot and should not be expected to meet an impossible standard that even the most vigorous democratic nations have failed to achieve.

The vote in the Knesset to approve the “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People” bill has become essential for Israelis themselves to stridently affirm that, after centuries of persecution, there now exists and will always exist a place of refuge for the Jewish people, one which guarantees, in the words of the country’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, in their own sovereign state.” It is this unassailable right to self-determination, which draws its life blood from Jewish law and history, that lies at the heart of Israel’s founding — and not its opponents’ tendentious argument that protecting the sensitivities of minorities was and is primary. The twin ideals of Jewish nationhood and representative democracy have sometimes come into conflict — that is true. But, as many Zionist thinkers have recognized, that tension might be the price for having any Jewish state at all.


Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles. He blogs at The Intermediate Zone.

ZOA supports Israeli bill affirming Israel as Jewish State

Legislation is under consideration in Jerusalem that formalizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. We support it. Why?
 
Because it is historically, legally, politically and religiously the case that Israel is the Jewish nation-state. The Balfour Declaration, later incorporated into the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, recognized the historical fact that what later became Israel was the “Jewish homeland.” 
 
The 1947 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 encompassed the creation of a “Jewish state” and most of the world has called it that ever since its emergence in 1948. 
 
In short, this legislation correctly recognizes that Israel was and is the Jewish state. The founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and every other major Zionist leader from that time forward were dedicated to establishing a Jewish state.
 
The Jewish homeland in which Israel today thrives and flourishes has been recognized for centuries by Bible-believing Jews and Christians –– of whom there are well over a billion today –– as holy land given to the Jewish people by G-d All Mighty. This land has been called for centuries the  ‘Promised Land’ –– who promised the land and to whom was it promised? In Genesis, it is promised by G-d to the Jewish people.
 
It was precisely because this is the Jewish homeland that the Zionist movement turned down proposals of Jewish statehood elsewhere, like Uganda. Zionism is not just about Jewish statehood, it is also about the reconnection of the Jewish people with its biblical and religious homeland. That is why Zionist leader and Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, told the 1936 Peel Commission that “Our Mandate is the Bible.”
 
Israel is scarcely alone in describing itself as the state of a particular group, religion or ethnicity. In the same region can be found the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite the vicious discrimination against, and persecution of, minorities in these states, no-one has said that these states cannot affirm their national identity and purpose. Why then should Israel, the only Middle Eastern country that actually respects and protects minorities, not do so?
 
No one expects Britain to remove the Union Jack (which includes two crosses) from its flag just because many of its citizens include Muslims, Hindus and Jews. No one tells Scandinavian countries to remove the crosses that adorn their flags. And no one has told Muslim majority states to remove the Islamic crescent from their flags. The flags of over 40 countries possess either the cross or the crescent. Only in the case of Israel’s star do we hear it is unacceptable.
 
The U.S. pledge of allegiance speaks of “One Nation under God.” Must this be changed in deference to the views of atheists? Of course not. National heritages are not to be discarded because not every citizen sees their own views reflected in them.
 
Importantly, this legislation does not discriminate against Israel’s rich tapestry of minorities. The rights and liberties of Israelis of different religions and ethnicities would remain unaffected by this bill. They will continue to play, as they have been doing, an important role at all levels of Israeli life.
 
Non-Jewish citizens live and are welcome in Israel, but the Israeli state, its institutions, laws, flag and anthem reflect the history and aspirations of the people who founded it with their labor, resources and blood. 
 
It is said that this legislation will set back the prospects of peace. This is untrue. Tragically, Palestinian Arab terrorists will continue to try and murder Jews whether or not Israel passes this legislation.
 
The prospects of peace are set back by continued Palestinian Arab and wider rejection of Israel as a Jewish state within any borders, the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s refusal to fulfill its obligations under the Oslo agreements to disarm, outlaw and arrest terrorists and to end incitement to hatred and murder –– not because Israel is duly affirming itself as the Jewish nation-state.
 
Peace is also set back by many countries, including some that are Israel’s friends, when they are silent on PA incitement and pro-terror, anti-peace actions, when they fail to demand of the Palestinians that they amend or rescind the Fatah and Hamas charters, which deny Jewish peoplehood and call for Israel’s destruction; fulfill their Oslo commitments; and fail to penalize Mahmoud Abbas’ PA by terminating aid and diplomatic support for it as a result of these failures.
 
There is no reason to object to this legislation’s purpose –– the formal recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, as virtually the whole world recognizes it to be.


Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America.