Yesterday, the bill titled “Nation State of the Jewish People” (NSJP) was passed by the Israeli Knesset in a preliminary vote (48-41). This is a major hurdle, and while it’s not done yet, it’s getting close.
This bill title is bound to puzzle many at face value. The obvious question would be ‘isn’t Israel already the nation-state of the Jewish people?’
Indeed, this requires close examination, in order to understand more precisely what this bill, which is meant to become a quasi-constitutional ‘Basic Law’, is really about.
First, let’s look at what MK Avi Dichter (Likud), one of the main proponents of the bill since its inception in 2011 (and sponsor of its recent wording), said yesterday:
“Israel is the state of all its individual citizens. It isn’t and won’t be the nation-state of any minority living in it…That is a right this bill gives to the Jewish People alone,” Dichter said, adding in Arabic: “Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish People.”
A close examination of this one statement, already reveals to us a wealth of Zionist lies, contradiction, obfuscation, and sheer chutzpah.
First, Dichter says:
“Israel is the state of all its individual citizens”.
No, it is not. Israel has citizens, but it has no Israeli nationals. Israeli nationals simply don’t exist, because Israel doesn’t recognize an Israeli nationality. Think of it – Israelis don’t exist.
The recently shelved UN report on Israeli Apartheid has referred to this matter in passing (p. 4):
“Palestinian political parties can campaign for minor reforms and better budgets, but are legally prohibited by the Basic Law from challenging legislation maintaining the racial regime. The policy is reinforced by the implications of the distinction made in Israel between “citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um): all Israeli citizens enjoy the former, but only Jews enjoy the latter. “National” rights in Israeli law signify Jewish-national rights.”
UK professor Moshe Machover, in his 2016 essay titled “Zionism: Quest for Legitimacy” also points to these very matters, in particular regarding the NSJP formula:
“It may perhaps come as a surprise to some readers that the NSJP formula has long been enshrined in Israeli law, albeit in a negative formulation. Israel has no written constitution; instead, it has a number of ‘basic laws’ that have privileged quasi-constitutional status and are intended to be incorporated in a written constitution if and when it is enacted. One of these is Basic law: the knesset, passed in 1958, which deals, among other matters, with the way the knesset gets elected. The ninth amendment to this basic law, adopted in 1985, includes a section (7A) that bans certain kinds of party lists from running for election. Here is the official English translation:
Prevention of participation of candidates’ list
7A. A candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
(1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
(2) negation of the democratic character of the state;
(3) incitement to racism.
Note that here too the NSJP formula is – quite typically – coupled with a pious rejection of racism.”
One might now be even more confused, as to what is actually new in the NSJP bill. But bear with me.
Let’s return to Dichter and his statement from yesterday. Dichter continues as mentioned:
“It isn’t and won’t be the nation-state of any minority living in it…That is a right this bill gives to the Jewish People alone”.
Now on the face of it, if we didn’t know about this citizenship-nationality dichotomy, we would easily be going “doesn’t that contradict the first part of the statement, that Israel is the state of all its individual citizens?”. Rightfully so. Because that contradiction is already cemented in Israel’s separation of ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’. Israel can pretend to be the state of all its citizens, but in actual fact it seeks to be the state of the Jews, as a ‘nation’. This is the whole point of the bill. But Dichter talks about a ‘minority’. Who is he referring to? Obviously, the Palestinians, who would not be entitled to be called that, because Israel doesn’t recognize Palestine, nor a Palestinian nationality. The Palestinians get to be ‘Palestinians’ in their Bantustans, under a ‘Palestinian Authority’, but no more. As Israeli citizens, their ‘nationality’ is, simply, ‘Arab’. Now, these Palestinians were obviously made a ‘minority’ through ethnic cleansing and Apartheid. If Israel’s de facto rule over some 6.5 million Palestinians between the Jordan and the Mediterranean (excluding the refugees outside that territory) was to be realized in equal citizenship, then even without refugee return, Jews would become a minority. Is there then a concern hidden in Dichter’s words, trying to avert a loss of Jewish political superiority where Jews would become a possible minority?
Indeed, this is a typical Zionist anxiety. Machover relates to this, and notes in the mentioned essay:
“Very simply, it is about legitimation. [NSJP] attempts to legitimise the Zionist state not as the political expression of its own citizens, or even that of its Hebrew majority, but as the nation-state of a fictitious, worldwide Jewish ‘nation’. It implies that the nation state of Jews anywhere is not determined by their place of birth, or long residence, or citizenship, or personal choice, but willy-nilly is the Zionist state, which claims to represent all Jews and act on their behalf, whether they like it or not.”
Thus, the NSJP claim transcends the local numerical demographic issue, and seeks to cement that Israel, the ‘Nation State of the Jewish People’, is not about a local ‘nationality’ as we normally understand it, and therefore not about a local demographic representation as we would normally understand it – it is about a Jewish ‘national’ paradigm that transcends all that.
Let’s just finish that part with Dichter’s statement, where he then says, in Arabic:
“Israel, the Nation State of the Jewish People”.
This is no mere translation for Arabic speakers. This is a statement which is an epitome of Jewish-Zionist chutzpah, it is a spitting in the face of Arab Palestinians, and it is highly symbolic for Zionists. The bill, while cementing Hebrew as an ‘official language’, reduces Arabic to a ‘special status’, though “its speakers have the right to language-accessible state services.” The modern Hebrew language, created by the Zionists out from biblical Hebrew, as a symbolic ‘attachment’ to times immemorial, supposedly before the destruction of the 2nd temple in AD 70 (never mind that at that point, Judeans mostly spoke Aramaic). The usage of Hebrew is a highly symbolic gesture, saying to the indigenous Arab Palestinians, that their presence in Palestine for millennia, with all its linguistic and cultural attachments, is but a ‘temporary’ matter, which must bow to this ‘divine’ attachment of the Jews, and attachment which transcends time and space. That’s what Dichter is saying, with his statement in Arabic. It’s a messianic notion, embedded in a ‘secular’ settler-colonialist venture. As I’ve noted before, Zionism isn’t really secular.
But now, let us move on to that question, which naturally arises, as to what is so new here. If all this was more or less in place before, why now? Why a ‘basic law’ on this one, now?
To understand this, we must understand the Zionist logic of ‘tower and stockade’. Early Zionist settlement worked on this basic ‘trick’, and it actually still does. You create a fact on the ground – with a tower and a stockade, to defend something – which has hardly any content at the outset. Then you fill it in. The settlement outposts in today’s Palestinian Occupied Territories work very much on this principle, albeit with the already established initial security provision from the Israeli military. There is a reason why they consider themselves the ‘new pioneers’ and regard with derision critique from Zionist Leftists who got their state by similar means.
We can extend the ‘tower and stockade’ notion to the political paradigm, and look at Israel’s constitution – or rather lack of it, in this perspective.
The late Naeim Giladi recalled a conversation he had about the issue of the lack of a constitution, with David Ben Gurion:
“After the Israeli attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya in October, 1953, Ben Gurion went into voluntary exile at the Sedeh Boker kibbutz in the Negev. The Labor party then used to organize many buses for people to go visit him there, where they would see the former prime minister working with sheep. But that was only for show. Really he was writing his diary and continuing to be active behind the scenes. I went on such a tour.
We were told not to try to speak to Ben Gurion, but when I saw him, I asked why, since Israel is a democracy with a parliament, does it not have a constitution? Ben Gurion said, “Look, boy”- I was 24 at the time – “if we have a constitution, we have to write in it the border of our country. And this is not our border, my dear.” I asked, “Then where is the border?” He said, “Wherever the Sahal will come, this is the border.” Sahal is the Israeli army.”
This open-ended approach to borders, also extends to other matters pertaining to the state. But whilst leaving such issues rather open-ended leaves space for ‘expansion’, it is also a double-edged sword, in that it can make cementing of that ‘fact on the ground’ more difficult and vulnerable to ‘negotiations’, which Israel obviously seeks to avoid, if it can get its way without it. The delaying of overt ‘commitment’ by overt constitution also allows Israel to avoid some fervent critique, by claiming that its acts and expansions are ‘merely temporary’, whilst it does everything possible to avoid having to step back from the ‘temporary’ reality.
But the ‘vulnerability’ that such approach entails, means that Israel tries to cement its practices, step by step, in this quasi-constitutional set of ‘basic-laws’ (of which there are currently 15). Many of them seem innocuous, but one of them is a very obvious example of a blatant cementing of crime, which is also territorial. It is called “Basic Law: Jerusalem” (1980), and states in its first article:
“Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”
This law is in diametric contravention of international law. But it’s not as if Israel didn’t de-facto annex Jerusalem in 1967. It simply cemented the fact in 1980, and this is a cementing that works as a symbolic and legislative firewall against having to negotiate withdrawal from East Jerusalem in any future negotiations. The NSJP bill’s article 4 is an affirmation of the Jerusalem law, stating “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel”.
Thus, we can see the NSJP bill as a cementing of a notion that is central to Zionism, and reflective of policies already embedded in Israeli practice (and to some degree legislation, as mentioned), but it seeks to cement this Zionist Jewish ‘national’ superiority as an overarching, basic, quasi-constitutional law.
The NSJP bill ostensibly secures some ‘rights’ to those ‘others’, as it mentions Arabic having ‘special status’ (after having declared that “the state’s language is Hebrew”), or noting that “every citizen of Israel, regardless of their religion or nationality, has the right to actively preserve their culture, heritage, language and identity…” (but let’s not forget that Nakba commemoration is illegal in Israel…). These are supposedly ‘liberal’ provisions. But that should be seen in a similar light as Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which, in lack of constitution, was supposedly meant to provide as an overall paradigm of national notion. There, it said:
“[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
All that didn’t work out too well, now did it?
With all ‘good intentions’, sincere, naïve or fictitious as they may have been, the nationalist vein of Zionism has proven that it trumps democracy, it trumps human rights, it trumps UN resolutions and it will always trump peace for territory and ‘demography’.
And the bulk and thrust of the new NSJP bill is cementing what Zionism has always been about – a Jewish State for an assumed ‘Jewish Nation’, which trumps the national rights of the indigenous population, under the veil of a ‘democracy’.
As Falk and Tilley wrote in the mentioned UN report on Israeli Apartheid, in the section titled ‘Demographic engineering’ (p. 31):
“The first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy — democratic elections, a strong legislature — without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group.”
The NSJP bill is another one of those veils – cementing racial dominance, whilst adding some ‘democratic cosmetics’.
But the bill is what it is: Apartheid with a veil.