Rabbi Gilad Kariv responds to Israel’s Nation State Law & Tisha B’Av

Rabbi Gilad Kariv
19 July 2018
Israel Movement for Reform & Progressive Judaism
In a few days, the Jewish people will mark exactly 1948 years since the second destruction of Jerusalem. The historians of the time left us with powerful descriptions of the political and military struggle between the Roman Empire and the Jews who lived in this Land. But Jewish tradition has chosen to emphasize a different aspect. For our tradition, the destruction was first and foremost the result of the domination of the national agenda by a spirit of zealotry, in an age when previously marginal extremists moved to center stage. No less seriously, Jewish tradition suggests that moderate sages and leaders fell silent – precisely those who should have seen the writing on the wall, but through negligence, weakness of spirit, or a tendency to look the other way repeatedly allowed another red line to be crossed and another precedent to be set.

The approval of the shameful and dangerous Nation-State Law should be a wake-up call for the broad public in Israel that is not willing to let history repeat itself. This public must no longer remain silent about the ill winds of zealotry, incitement, racism, and exclusion that have shaped and twisted the character of Israeli society over recent years. This public can no longer accept a process whereby everything that until a few years ago was considered extreme, beyond the pale, and absurd is now becoming the latest fashion in Israeli politics. It is a mistake to regard this process as the inevitable result of demography and politics. This public has a profound and sharp argument with public representatives who misuse Judaism and Zionism as tools to shape hatred and division. But its real quarrel is with those public representatives who know, deep down, that the Nation-State Law will be a stain on the Israeli statute book – yet raised their hands to support it. These representatives enjoy flaunting their support for the liberal public at one moment and for the nationalist section of the population at the next. They should pay a public price for their actions. Those who voted for the Nation-State law must know that they crossed a red line.

The Nation-State Law is contemptible. We can argue about specific wordings or comfort ourselves by noting that many of its most harmful provisions were removed in the final version. But to do so is to bury our heads in the sand. The amendments and deletions do not alter the spirit of the law: a spirit of isolationism, insularity, and the construction of walls. This is a vindictive and mean spirit, a spirit of force and of sticking a finger in your fellow’s eye.

Seventy years ago, the nation’s leaders sat down to draft the Declaration of Independence. In the midst of difficult and bloody days for all the inhabitants of this Land, they produced a document that seeks to look forward with hope, in the belief that a better reality can be created here – one of “complete equality of rights for all its citizens without distinction of religion, race, and sex.” In this reality, Jews and Arabs will “participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship.” It is hardly surprising that unlike the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Equality, this new Basic Law does not even mention the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence. If the authors of this evil law could make the Declaration of Independence, with its commitment to equality and partnership, disappear completely, they would do so.

The process of enactment of the Nation State-Law became an ongoing show in which its supporters were careful to recite Zionist slogans, hallmarks, and quotes. But the truth is that this law is nothing more than pseudo-Zionism. It is an empty shell whose true purpose is to revive the public and political consciousness of the pre-state age. Its authors are not busy with the business of running a sovereign state, but seek to continue the struggle of the Hebrew Yishuv against dark internal and external forces. This process is not motivated by sentimental longing. A calculated attempt is being made here to exempt the State of Israel and Israeli society from the difficult challenges it faces as a modern, law-abiding, and advanced sovereign nation: Narrowing social gaps; ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens and residents; improving the relations between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority; ensuring the decent treatment of asylum seekers and refugees; defining the relations between religion and state; and – of course – the desire to move toward agreement and compromise with our neighbors.

This law is based on a stubborn refusal to accept that, after seventy years of independence, the task that faces us is to integrate Jewish nationhood with a thriving Israeli culture that profoundly recognizes the existence of a large and important minority in this land. Contrary to the separatist and zealous vision of the authors of this law, millions of Israelis want to bring their children up in a nation where Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages; in a country where people choose where to live without anyone inspecting their religion or national identity; and in a society where alongside the Jewish festivals other days are also celebrated reflecting the heritage of all the partners in Israeli society, as well as our joint heritage.

In 1892, five years before the First Zionist Congress, the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky wrote: “Rejoice for I have faith in friendship / I’ll find a heart – in this I’ve faith – / A heart that shares in all my hopes, / A heart that feels both joy and pain. / And I shall keep faith in the future, / Though the day be yet unseen / Surely it will come when nations / All live in blessed peace.”

These words are the nation-state law of millions of Israelis who believe that Israel’s strength depends on its democratic values. The Nation-State law passed by the Knesset is a painful reminded to those millions of Israelis that it is not enough simply to believe. They also have to take action. If the passage of this law stirs the sleepy and apathetic democratic camp into action – it will have done some good along with so much harm.

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