We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to. – Ze’ev Jabotinsky
Asked if she has come up with a campaign slogan yet, she pulls a scroll of the 1948 declaration from her desk and proceeds to unroll it. “This is the gist of it all,” she says. “Who is for the Declaration of Independence and who is against it? If you’re for it, you’re with us. And I believe that the vast majority of Israelis are for it.”
I hadn’t noticed Benjamin Netanyahu or Naftali Bennett, or even Moshe Feiglin, being opposed to the Declaration of Independence. But Livni asserts that the Nation-State Law which Netanyahu and those to his right supported, “jeopardizes Israel’s democratic character.” This is apparently because it does not contain a clause guaranteeing “equality for all its citizens.”
The Right correctly points out that, at least in the view of the Supreme Court, equality and democracy are guaranteed by other Basic Laws, and there is nothing in this one that contradicts the Declaration of Independence. But the Right does agree with Livni that the Nation-State Law will be central to the next election. Writing in Israel Hayom, Haim Shine says,
…the next election (which will take place in 2019) will be about Israel’s image for the next 70 years, particularly the basic question of whether Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people or a state of all its citizens, or more precisely – all its ethnicities? Is Israel a Jewish state, the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old vision, or just another country that lies on the Mediterranean?
The members of the Joint [Arab] List have made it clear that their objection to the Nation-State Law is that they do not want a state that is Jewish in any sense. They do not want a Jewish majority – they support a right of return for Arab “refugees” – and they object to the Jewish symbols of the state (the flag, the state emblem, and the national anthem). Livni makes it a point to distinguish her objection to the law from theirs, saying “I will stand with [the Arab MKs] on equality, but I can’t stand with them on the issue of national identity.”
Livni has carved out a path that is too narrow to stand on. On the left, there is the crevasse of the anti-Zionist position of the Arab members of the Knesset. On the right, her disagreement with Netanyahu becomes too small to make a difference. She objects to the role of the Haredi parties in government and its effect on Israeli life, but there is nothing in the Nation-State Law that affects their influence one way or the other. Indeed, in 2014, Livni was in part responsible for the dissolution of the only coalition government in Israel’s history that did not include a religious party, after she broke ranks with Netanyahu over an earlier version of the Nation-State Law!
The opponents of the Nation-State Law, like Livni, who wish to retain the label “Zionist” are stuck, because there is very little in it to rationally object to. This is why they tend to make a fuss about what is not in it. One example is the clause that asserts that “The state shall act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people.” The italicized phrase was added to a draft version of the law as a result of pressure from the Haredi parties, because they feared that otherwise the law could be used by a liberal Supreme Court to force the state to recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism in Israel. But this wording does not prevent such recognition; it simply does not require it.
Similarly, supporters of LGBT rights would like a clause that could be used to overturn the ruling that the state will not pay for surrogates for gay male couples that wish to have children. They will not find such a clause in this law, but it is almost certain that the surrogacy ruling will either be changed by the Knesset or be voided by the Supreme Court on the basis of other Basic Laws.
Some have noted that while the law has few practical consequences – although it negates the dream of a binational state that was proposed in recent years by various groups of Arab citizens of Israel – the liberal Jewish opposition to it has nevertheless been quite harsh, even among those, like Tzipi Livni, who are adamant about their Zionism. And here I want to propose a possible explanation for this phenomenon.
Opposition to the law is yet another example of the inability of some Jewish Israelis to get past the “galut mentality.” In other words, it is correlated with the degree to which a Jew worries about what the goyim will think.
Today in Western Europe and liberal/progressive circles in the US, nationalism and ethnic particularism are anathema. Nationalist movements are often labeled racist or fascist. National borders are considered unfair limitations on the human spirit. The natural desire of ethnic and religious groups to live together is suppressed in favor of diversity, even if this results in more interpersonal conflict. Actions to increase ethnic homogeneity are labeled “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.” Israel’s concern to maintain its Jewish majority and culture, which are expressed by limitations on family reunification for residents of the PA areas and Arab citizens of Israel, or by attempts to deport illegal African migrants, are condemned outside of the country as racist.
Most Israelis, however, understand that the continued existence of the Jewish state depends on maintaining a Jewish majority. And they further understand why a Jewish state is a necessity for the survival of the Jewish people in a frankly antisemitic world. This is Zionism 101.
The problem for some is that though they pay lip service to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, it upsets them when they encounter the condemnation of the anti-Zionist world. So they come up with reasons to oppose the Nation-State Law and other overt expressions of Zionism. But their real motivation is embarrassment.
They want to be liked in Western Europe and America. They want to be modern, progressive, secular, humanistic, and so on. They don’t want to be the wrong kind of Jews, the ghetto Jews. But ironically, their obsequious choice to not stand up for their people marks them as precisely that.
Jabotinsky didn’t say this, but I think he would have agreed: you can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can’t (easily) take the ghetto out of the Jew.