In the best of times, introducing a bill in the Knesset that would change the delicate balance of Israel’s character as both a Jewish and democratic state might be considered unnecessary and even unwise. And these are not the best of times.
Far from it. Israel has been in the midst of what some call a third intifada, a steady and now increasing level of deadly outbursts by Palestinians on Israeli civilians since July. These attacks have been ascribed to the breakdown of the Mideast peace talks, the murder of an Arab teen following the murders of three Jewish teens, the 50-day Gaza war, and the false but persistent Arab claim that Israel is seeking to curtail Muslim prayer at the Temple Mount. (In truth, Israel has, since the conclusion of the Six-Day War in 1967, ceded control of the area to Jordanian clerics and prohibited Jewish prayer there so as to prevent a holy war.)
Last week’s heinous attack on Jews at prayer in a synagogue in Har Nof underscored the depth of depravity of those who, like the warriors of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, appeal to the lowest levels of human behavior.
That is the setting for a bill, approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday that would emphasize the Jewish character of the state and, to its critics inside and outside of the Jewish community, appear to make Israel’s commitment to democratic values secondary.
Before the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said the bill was important because “there are many who are challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians refuse to recognize this, and there is also opposition from within.” Netanyahu added that before the bill would come before a Knesset vote it would be amended to stress the principle of “equal individual rights for every citizen.”
Why, then, tempt fate, and an already angered Palestinian population that sees itself as second-class in the eyes of the state? Officials of the ADL here and the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem called the legislation “unnecessary,” and the head of the Jewish People Policy Institute noted that changing the Jewish/democratic balance “may stain Israel in the eyes of the free world and distance diaspora Jews who are counted as supporters of the Zionist project.”
Sadly, the motivation here is less ideology than politics — in this case an effort by Netanyahu to satisfy his coalition members on the right. But the repercussions for passage of the proposed nation-state law are ominous and very real — and just not worth it.