Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who despite all his flaws remains the Churchillian figure of our time, has never faced anything other than an Israeli/Western media inimically hostile to his own political interests. Now under formal indictment by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit as part of a politically motivated sham, Netanyahu faces next month what is surely the most challenging election of his political career thus far.
And the media, predictably, are once again angling to play the part of Netanyahu political spoiler.
In response to a recent question posed by Israeli actress Rotem Sela on her Instagram page about the nature of the Israeli nation-state, Netanyahu responded by saying that “Israel is the nation-state of Jews alone.”
Apparently, this rather mundane observation has caused somewhat of a stir for all the usual suspects in the doltish, anti-Israel “international community.” Alas, one is forced to wonder whether these same observers would question whether Sweden is the nation-state of Swedes alone despite the presence there of some ethnic Finns, or whether Hungary is the nation-state of Hungarians alone despite the presence there of some ethnic Slovaks.
No matter. Left-wing Haaretz has amplified Netanyahu’s critics. And domestically, NPR reported yesterday that “[t]he prime minister’s comment set off criticism, debates over Israel’s true nature — and observations that with Israel’s legislative elections now less than a month away, Netanyahu’s provocative language might be calculated to help his Likud Party at the polls.”
Yes, how “provocative” — a mere recitation of Israel’s new nation-state Basic Law (the rough equivalent of a constitutional amendment, in the U.S. legal system) that passed last year, which explicitly defined the country as a Jewish state. And that new Basic Law, as Eugene Kontorovich argued at the time, is completely normal — even perfunctory — within the broader context of Western-style liberal democracies.
On Thursday Israel finally expressed in constitutional law the basic achievement of Zionism: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. …
In reality, Israel’s Basic Law would not be out of place among the liberal democratic constitutions of Europe — which include similar provisions that have not aroused controversy. The law does not infringe on the individual rights of any Israeli citizen, including Arabs; nor does it create individual privileges. The illiberalism here lies with the law’s critics, who would deny the Jewish state the freedom to legislate like a normal country.
The nation-state law declares that Israel is a country established to instantiate the Jewish people’s “right to national self-determination.” It constitutionalizes symbols of that objective — the national anthem, holidays and so forth. There is nothing undemocratic or even unusual about this. Among European states, seven have similar “nationhood” constitutional provisions.
And this is the crux of the matter: Israel’s codification into constitutional law last year of “the basic achievement of Zionism” is the sole rudimentary truth to which Netanyahu paid fealty in his grossly misconstrued, anodyne comments. Put another way, all Netanyahu did by referring to Israel as “the nation-state of Jews alone” was to defend Zionism itself.
Zionism is the movement for Jewish national self-determination in the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland. In a Zionist government, non-Jewish individual citizens still have the full bundle of civil and political rights. Indeed, in Israel today, that is wholly and completely the case. “Anti-Zionist” Arabs who reject Zionism itself and would prefer to see Israel as we know it abolished serve openly in the Knesset itself! Query how many other liberal Western-style democracies allow those who seek the government’s abolition to serve openly in the government’s highest legislative body.
The reality is that, while Zionism is the distinct national movement of the Jewish people and Israel is therefore necessarily only the nation-state of the Jewish people, non-Jewish citizens in Israel have all the same basic individual rights as Israel’s Jewish citizens have. Arab, Christian, Druze, and all other non-Jewish Israeli citizens are just as free to own property, participate in the market economy, vote, serve in the military, and serve in government as are Israel’s Jewish citizens.
It really is that simple.
The always-incisive Jonathan Tobin hits the nail on the head in explaining why manufactured non-controversies precisely such as this prove the very necessity of the otherwise-superfluous nation-state Basic Law:
This shouldn’t be controversial; that has been made clear in the country’s Declaration of Independence and its basic laws even before last year’s nation-state legislation was passed. This latest argument actually illustrates why that law was necessary.
A “state of all its citizens” is the goal of Arabs and others who want to eliminate the sole Jewish state on the planet. Anyone who embraces it is not opposing anti-Arab racism; they are, whether they understand it or not, backing anti-Zionism.
That’s why the claims that Netanyahu is fomenting racism are blatantly false. It may seem rude to say it, but Netanyahu, Gantz or any other person who could conceivably be Israel’s prime minister has no plans to include Arabs determined to undermine or destroy the state into the government. That isn’t racist. It’s common sense.
To be fair, one can oppose Zionism. It is intrinsically anti-Semitic to do so, in the year 2019, of course. As I wrote last Friday, anti-Zionism was “a legitimate academic debate in the half-century between Herzl’s initial formulation and Ben-Gurion’s ultimate declaration, but … now serves as the thinnest of all thinly veiled ruses for genocidal aspirants who want to throw all the Juden into the Mediterranean.” Indeed, just as one can be an unvarnished Jew-hater, one can surely still oppose Zionism. One can personally hold any number of vile beliefs.
But it ought to be not too much to ask that, in lambasting Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel is “the nation-state of Jews alone,” his critics recognize that they are lambasting Zionism itself. Perhaps they are lambasting Zionism out of sheer ignorance, or perhaps they are lambasting Zionism out of malice. But they should be intellectually honest that they are lambasting Zionism, nonetheless. And intellectual honesty, after all, is always appreciated.