I didn’t intend to write about the Nation-State Law again. I thought that I had explained my position that the law is an expression of what it means to be a Jewish state, and is essential to protect our Zionist heritage, which is being assaulted by the post-Zionist Israeli Left, by anti-nationalist (and anti-Jewish!) Europe, by politically “progressive” American Jewish groups, and – needless to add – by our Arab representatives in the Knesset.
I argued, as have numerous others (see here and here, for example), that there is an important distinction between individual civil and political rights, which are guaranteed to all Israeli citizens, and the national rights of the Jewish people. Those who think that ethnic nationalism and nation-states are outdated atavisms that should be removed from the world obviously don’t recognize the latter (although it’s interesting that their complaints seem to invariably target only Israel and not any of the dozens of other nation-states).
But anyway, I thought I was done. And then there was the demonstration in Tel Aviv yesterday, led by representatives of Israel’s Druze community, in which they made it clear that they believe that the law makes them “second-class citizens.” While I can argue all day that in fact the law does not damage their rights as citizens in any way, I can’t deny their feelings. It is clear that they mean this from their hearts.
If there could be such a thing as a model minority in an ethnic state, the Druze are it. They bear far more than a proportional burden of the defense of the state, they don’t embrace separatism, and they don’t ask for special treatment. If the Jewish state can’t get along with its Druze citizens, it can’t get along with any minority. And that would be disastrous indeed.
So what happened?
It started with long-standing, legitimate grievances about things like the availability of building permits in Druze towns, the allocation of funds for infrastructure and schools, and so on. Yes, their right to equal treatment was guaranteed by law, but somehow they didn’t get what they thought they were entitled to. They got promises that problems would be corrected, but it didn’t happen. Other groups – Haredim, the disabled, and LGBT activists – blocked main roads to press their cases, but the Druze confined their demonstrations to the areas near where they lived. Other groups used very strong language toward the government or went on strike, but the Druze were polite and kept doing their jobs in the army and the police, at the bleeding edge of the conflict with Arab terrorism.
Now the law was passed, and along came the Israeli Left and the representatives of the European-payrolled NGOs, and various politicians who saw an opportunity to embarrass the hated Netanyahu government, and they said to the Druze: “Look, you are second-class citizens. They have been screwing you all along because they don’t give your people the honor or respect they deserve, and now they are making a law to justify it.” Can you blame the Druze for agreeing? I can’t. If the state truly respected them, it wouldn’t ignore their grievances.
In this part of the world, nothing is more important than honor and respect. So it wasn’t enough for Bibi to promise that all of their practical concerns would finally be taken care of. Now it is a matter of honor, and that is a more complicated problem than building permits.
It’s ironic that the Left, which doesn’t understand or care about Jewish honor and self-respect, was able to understand that this was the way to drive a wedge between the state and the Druze. The same people that think that the way to stop Hamas from burning down our country is to remove restrictions on imports to Gaza or build them a port, who agree to exchange murderers for hostages at a ratio of 1000:1, who don’t get it that self-respect is important to Jews too, do understand that the Druze want to be respected.
Regardless, the anti-Zionist coalition played it smart, and we let it go by. We allowed them to define the narrative in terms of a racist majority systematically oppressing minorities. We gave them the ammunition to use against us with the Druze.
What can we do now?
I don’t have a good answer. I see the law as absolutely necessary to protect the Jewish state against the post-Zionist elite and the European-funded NGOs that have been using our legal system, and especially the left-leaning Supreme Court, as a weapon to replace Zionism with a form of social democracy as the basis of our state – and in the process replace the Jewish state with a “state of its citizens” that would soon become another Arab state.
But I also see the reaction of the Druze to the law as a major failure of our leadership. Had they addressed the real concerns of the Druze when they should have, maybe the appeal from the enemies of Zionism wouldn’t have found fertile ground. And obviously the first thing that has to happen now is that discrimination of any kind against Druze communities and individuals has to end. Immediately. I’m sure there are countless bureaucratic reasons why change takes time, but time is up for this particular change. There has to be visible action on the ground, not more promises.
The injury to the honor of the Druze people also has to be addressed. But at the same time, it is not possible to weaken the basic principles of the Nation-State Law. The distinction between individual rights and national rights is the key to making this possible, as well as making sure that in all practical matters, there is equality of treatment of Jews and minorities. Perhaps one thing that could be done would be to add a clause about equality of all citizens to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which has already been interpreted by the Supreme Court to imply it.
I think we can get this fixed, but it will take some time.
Finally, it would behoove us as residents of the Middle East to once and for all internalize that fact, in particular the importance here of such concepts as honor, respect, and narrative. It would help us to better understand both our friends and our enemies – and to avoid errors like this in the future.