The Nation-State Law Recriminations

After the Nation-State Law was passed by a majority vote of the Knesset, it has come under fire from the usual suspects, the Palestinians, the Western pro-Palestinian liberal elite, and the left-wing in Israel.  But, perhaps more worrying is that it has also stirred opposition within Israel from unexpected sources, most notably the Druze.

First Brig. Gen. Amal Assad, a strong Druze supporter of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, contacted him to express Druze reservations about the Law.  Then Bennett wrote a letter to PM Netanyahu pointing out the Druze concerns.  In this letter he referred to the Druze as “our brothers.”  Indeed the Druze, a small religious community in Israel have been very loyal to the State of Israel, serving faithfully in the IDF and indeed dying side-by-side with Jewish soldiers.  Then Netanyahu arranged a meeting with Druze leadership, including their spiritual leader Sheik Mowfat Tarif.  This meeting ended in recriminations, so that there were two further meetings.  Now, with Bennett’s help further negotiations are underway to come up with a compromise that could amend the law to satisfy the Druze and other minorities.

The Druze are considered a heretical sect of Islam, that developed in Egypt in the 13th century.  They believe that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is another prophet of God, who has been over-looked by others.  They were persecuted in Egypt and fled along the coast to the mountains of Lebanon where they took refuge in the region called Jebel Druze.  Their minority status means that they are loyal to any country that protects them.  So far they have been loyal to Lebanon, Syria and Israel.  They also cultivate a strong military tradition.

In order to put pressure on Netanyahu to amend the law, a large demonstration was held last Sat night in Tel Aviv with tens of thousands of Druze and Labor Party supporters, who oppose the Nation-State Law.  Although I understand the Druze concerns, the fact is that this Law is an addition to the Basic Laws of Israel, but changes nothing in terms of treatment of minorities.  The Druze want to be acknowledged as part of the State that we call Israel alongside the Jews.  But, the fact is that in a democracy, the majority rule, and this Nation-State law is what the majority of Jews want.  Once the Druze critics start to bandy around terms like “apartheid State” which they know very well is untrue and defamatory, then the two sides will have to part ways.


The Nation-State Law

In an important outcome, PM Netanyahu was successful in having the Nation-State Law passed by the Knesset.  This establishes in Israel’s Basic Laws that it is the Nation State of the Jewish people, and as such is required to take actions and have policies that are intended to ensure the survival and well-being of the Jewish people.  Note that this transcends religion, although Judaism is an integral part of Jewish culture and being, nevertheless Israel is founded on the principle that the Jews are a “nation.”  Some people like to say “a race” but this is not correct, because the Jews today are made up of many races, black, white, brown, all shades.

As evidence for this fundamental principle, that the Jews are a nation, one can readily note that when the Jews were in exile (galut) after being expelled from their historic homeland by the Roman Empire (2000 years ago), they nevertheless retained many aspects of a nation, i.e. a coherent and unique religion, a unique language (Hebrew), a continuous form of communal organization, specific ethnic practices (such as food),  and a specific history as a distinct group even though dispersed throughout many lands (diaspora).   The Jews were not unique in this respect, for example, the Armenians were also a nation devoid of a country for many years, after being expelled and massacred by the Turkish Empire.  Also, the Kurds are clearly a nation, even though dispersed between other sovereign states (Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran).

As further evidence, one must note that although anti-Judaism existed early on in the history of the Church, it soon transformed into a racial hatred now known as anti-Semitism, a term that was introduced in Germany in the 19th century.  Thus, the Inquisition, founded in 1478, was obsessed with hounding and murdering so-called “New Christians” (i.e Christians descended from Jews) in order to ensure the purity of Christian blood (limpieza de sangre).

This was very similar to the anti-Semitic racial laws promulgated by the Nazis, that were derived from laws and practices adopted throughout Europe during the medieval period.  Note that the Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe during WWII murdered Jews based on their “racial” characteristics and they were not concerned with their religious beliefs (many were descended from families that had converted to Christianity generations before) .

Another example, was that in the former Soviet Union Jews were classified as a nationality, although they were the only nationality in the former USSR without an endogenous homeland (that’s why Stalin sought to transfer Jews to the artificial homeland of Birobidjan on the remote Chinese border).

In the USA, for purposes of “affirmative action,” certain groups (tribes or nations) are designated officially to be “minorities,” including Blacks, Hispanics (Spanish-speakers), American Indians (indigenous peoples) and certain Pacific Islanders (from US possessions. such as Guam).  Jews are not considered a “minority” in this respect, because they were not considered to need special treatment or help, they were too successful.  But, this designation led to ridiculous anomalies, such as that very wealthy immigrants to the US from Spain or Africa, could receive government financial support as a “minority,” but poor Jewish immigrants, from for example the former USSR, could not!

In a recent case in the USA, a Jewish man who had converted to Christianity was refused a job as a coach by a Louisiana Baptist College because of his “Jewish blood.”  He sued them on the grounds of racial discrimination and the Federal Judge found in his favor.  The Judge specifically noted that in this case his religious views were not considered, only his national/racial origin as a Jew.

There are those who decry the passing of this Nation-State Bill into law.  Among them are (1) Arabs, including Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs, who have called it racial discrimination and “an apartheid law.”  However, this is nonsense, not only does the Bill itself recognise the rights of minorities in Israel (there are Arab Muslims, Christians of many denominations, Druse, Circassian, etc.), but also this Law in no way changes the other Basic Laws of Israel that include democracy and the rights of minorities.  Also, note that most Muslim countries define themselves as Muslim and do not allow minority rights, and the PA has stated that any future Palestine State would exclude all Jews!       (2) Western liberal Jews and their Israeli counterparts, who would like Israel to be defined as “the State of all its people.”  It is precisely why this Law was necessary, to prevent the watering down of the unique Jewish nature of the State of Israel by such all-inclusive sentiments.   (3) The Ultra-Orthodox who see this Law as a means to include in the definition of the State of Israel all those non-Orthodox streams (including Conservative and Reform Judaism) that they do not consider to be “Jewish.”  It is precisely to ensure that the State of Israel is the state for all members of the Jewish nation that this Bill was necessary.

A Dangerous Web

PM Netanyahu has committed himself to passing the Likud-sponsored “Jewish Nation State Bill” before the present Knesset session ends soon.  This will finally establish in Israeli law the fact that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.  Apparently, although this has been widely known since the establishment of the State, it was not actually enshrined in Israeli Law, much as some countries don’t have written constitutions.

But, in order to pass the Bill, Netanyahu needs the support of his coalition colleagues, which includes the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ).  But, these parties vehemently oppose other legal initiatives that Netanyahu has been pursuing.  One of these is the Kotel (Western Wall) compromise between the Orthodox and the Conservative and Liberal Jewish movements.  Another is the Haredi Draft Bill, that requires all haredi men to register to serve in the IDF.  In relation to the former, the ultra-Orthodox represented by Shas and UTJ are totally against any compromise with the non-Orthodox movements, and have threatened to vote against and cause the Government to fall.  As a result Netanyahu has dropped the compromise he had negotiated with them, leading to much consternation among Jews in the US.   Also, he has backed off his former position that all haredi men must serve in the IDF.  He has done this in order to preserve his Government until at least after the summer break.

But, the price for ensuring Shas and UTJ support for the Jewish Nation State Bill may be too high.  Many Likud MK’s are angered by Netanyahu’s lack of leadership on these issues, which from a National Religious point of view are also quite clear-cut.  Most Likud supporters and modern Orthodox support the concept of a compromise at the Western Wall and most support haredi draft enforcement.  So by choosing to accommodate the Ultra-Orthodox versus his basic Likud supporters, Netanyahu may be making a pact with the devil.  Such are the intricacies of politics in Israel.

The Smilansky Street Festival

Now that I live in Beer Sheva, I am beginning to participate in local activities.  Every year at this time  they have a Smilansky Street Festival.  I went this evening with my daughter.  It was great!

First a word about Moshe Smilansky, he was a pioneer Zionist leader who moved to  Ottoman occupied Israel in 1890, he advocated peaceful coexistence with the Arabs in British occupied Mandatory Palestine, and he was a farmer and a prolific author.  In almost every city in Israel there is a street named after him.

The one in Beer Sheva is in the Old City.  Most people are not aware that Beer Sheva has an Old City.  It is not nearly as old as the famous one in Jerusalem, it dates mainly from the 19th century, when the Turks decided to develop Beer Sheva as  local capital of the Negev desert region.  It was their intention, as happened during WWI, to use it as a military base from which to attack the British in Egypt.  So they built a railroad to Beer Sheva at the beginning of the 20th century.  The Old City is a mixture of trendy art studios and old family-owned businesses.

We went to see an exhibit of paintings of two friends of mine Roy Rubinstein and Lena Zilberberg that was on for the festival.  Very exciting paintings.  Then we toured the festival, covering several blocks.  The weirdest thing (see Facebook) was a performer who blew up a huge balloon and then actually went inside it!  There were many stalls selling jewelry and crafts and lots of food stalls.  Finally we saw a band playing oriental (Mizrachi) Jewish music, with an instrument that looked like a zither, and the music sounds like Arabic music.  I looked up and saw that they were playing on the corner of Mordechai Anielewicz Street.  Only in Israel!

Israel is a Welfare State

In Israel there are Government based subsidies for all health and welfare issues.  The medical system works on the basis of Sick Funds (Kupat Holim) that each citizen can join and pay for thru his/her employer.  They are private but are subsidized by the Government thru the Ministry of Health (Misrad Habriut).  The General Sick Fund (Clalit) is required to provide health care for anyone who is indigent or cannot afford to belong. Most of the larger hospitals are owned by Clalit, but Tel Hashomer is owned by the Min. of Health directly and Hadassah is of course private.  We belong to the Maccabi Sick Fund that is smaller than Clalit and we find it is very efficient.  When you make an appointment at a clinic and arrive, you pass your magnetic card thru a monitor out front and it tells you where to go.  If you want to see a nurse or administrator you get a number instead.

All systems are subsidized, for example the employment of a foreign worker (usually Philippino, Indian or Chinese) as a carer for a sick person is subsidized, up to the extent of 40% of the cost.  My wife is now in an Alzheimer’s Ward and we have just applied for a subsidy for the high cost thru the Ministry of Health.  The process is complex yet straightforward.  There are forms that have to be filled out (in Hebrew of course) by the doctor, the nurse, the social worker, the gerontologist, etc.  With my daughter Miriam’s help (her Hebrew is very much better than mine) we visited the local office of the Ministry of Health and we submitted our forms, with appropriate identity information.  The people we met with there were very pleasant and helpful. Once they have processed them then we have to submit forms on our financial information, and eventually they will give us a code that tells how much they will subsidize.  Depending on the “means test” it may be nothing or all of the cost. Even if nothing it is worthwhile to be registered with them.

For people who cannot speak or read Hebrew there are private immigrant organizations, like the ones for English speakers, namely the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) and the British Immigrants Association (HOB), as well as Russian, Spanish, Ethiopian and French equivalents, that give advice in each language and guide immigrants thru the necessary bureaucratic processes.

It goes without saying that these subsidies in all aspects are for all citizens, irrespective of religion and country of origin.  Needless to say there are many patients, clerks and doctors who are Arabs, and all signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian, and if you are lucky also in English and French. Of course, the Arab citizens are expected to speak Hebrew, the language of the country, as are all immigrants.  The idea that Israel is an “apartheid state” is totally ludicrous and false.  You have only to visit any clinic or hospital in Israel to disabuse anyone of this propagandistic falsehood.   It so happens that the Chief Nurse at my wife’s Home is a Beduin Arab, the doctor is of Russian origin, and many of the nurses are Russian and Beduin.  The excellent social worker at our previous Maccabi Clinic in Netanya was an Arab woman.  They all work together without any problems.


Ignorance by Stars

The rapper Kanye West made a serious mistake when he stated that if slavery for Blacks lasted for 400 years then it must have been by choice.  Slavery a choice?  Yes, he really said that.  Of course, there was a quick and extensive reaction and he issued an apology.  But, this highlights the phenomenon of pop stars and movie stars who believe their name recognition gives them the right to sound off on all sorts of cultural and political issues, about which they are ignorant.

Another case in point is Natalie Portman, the Israeli-American actress who has starred in many movies.  She was to have been given the Israel Prize, a very prestigious and valuable award.  She had accepted the nomination, but then withdrew her acceptance wen she found that PM Netanyahu was going to speak at the award ceremony.  She said she did not want her presence to be considered as an endorsement of his views and policies.  Now let me ask you, would you think that if she got the award and he spoke that that was in fact an endorsement by her of his policies.  Nonsense.  The real reason she with drew is because her friends in the Hollywood left are anti-Netanyahu (and even anti-Israel) and it would have hurt her chances of getting further parts and support in Hollywood if she had appeared on the same stage as Netanyahu.

We give far too much attention to the uninformed and irrelevant opinions of actors, actresses and popstars.  Who cares what they think about the state of the economy, the issue of gun control and the Middle East situation.  As far as I am concerned Natalie Portman crossed the line and she doesn’t deserve the Israel Prize and she should stick to trying to act.

The Negev Tragedy

Last week there was a tragedy in Israel when a group of pre-army students were swept away by a flash flood during a trek in the Negev desert.  Ten students were killed and several more were wounded.  This was a national tragedy in a small country like Israel where every young Jewish life is precious.

In the desert the occurrence of storms miles away can trigger massive flash floods much further downstream, often in dry wadi beds.  Unsuspecting hikers can be caught by these sudden flash floods without any obvious warning signs.  But, when there are forecasts of storms in the region, it is usually stated that such hikes should not be undertaken.   In this case the pre-military Academy Bnei Zion in Tel Aviv that the students were attending ignored these warnings and insisted that the children (mostly aged 18) go on the previously planned hike to the Tzafit wadi.  Several of the children exchanged sms messages saying that to go would be dangerous and one even said that they might die as a result.

Following the tragedy, both the Principal of the Academy and the tour guide (who survived) were arrested.    Also, computers and papers from the Academy were confiscated by police.  In the Knesset a bill was introduced to specifically outlaw all such hikes when there are forecasts of dangerous storms in the region.  Legislation can only try to prevent such accidents after the event.  But, it was a great tragedy for Israel and there were memorial commemorations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.