In a fitting culmination to 5778, a year when Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law caused a greater uproar than any Israeli law in years, a group of seven Arab Knesset members visited the European Union in Brussels over the past week for meetings with top European officials.
They met with the ambassadors to the EU of every European country, members of the EU parliament, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, and the head of Israel’s Joint Arab List, MK Ayman Odeh, met with European foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini.
The results the Arab MKs scandalously sought were the condemnation of Israel – the country in whose parliament they serve – and increased pressure on Israel to have the law repealed.
By all accounts, the visit was a failure. The Arab MKs did not receive what they wanted. In fact, the official statement released by Mogherini’s office shortly after Odeh left was a moral victory for Israel.
“The Nation-State Law is first and foremost a matter of how Israel chooses to define itself, and we fully respect the internal Israeli debate on this,” Mogherini’s office said.
This did not come from the talking points of Israel’s Foreign Ministry or some pro-Israel pundit. When the European Union, which normally does not shy away from condemning Israel, releases a statement like that, it must be taken very seriously.
Mogherini must have done her homework. Indeed, the Nation-State Law was preceded by other Basic Laws and Supreme Court rulings that clearly establish the principles of democracy, the democratic structure of the state and the rights of the individual in the State of Israel.
The Nation-State Law complements the existing laws and gives expression to the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in Israel.
In part because of pressure from international bodies like the EU, the United Nations and UNESCO in particular, there have been increasing attempts to question and deny the right of the Jewish people to its national homeland. In view of this situation, the Knesset drafted legislation making clear that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people.
New York Times columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Bret Stephens said it best when he wrote a column called “The Jewish Nation-State bill non-scandal.
“What the bill is not is the death of Israeli democracy,” he wrote. “It was enacted democratically and can be overturned the same way. It is not the death of Israeli civil liberties – still guaranteed under the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and visibly reaffirmed by the large public protests following the bill’s enactment.
AND IT IS not apartheid – a cheap slur from people whose grasp of the sinister mechanics of apartheid is as thin as their understanding of the complexities of Israeli politics.”
The fact that Arab Knesset members called a press conference in Brussels, in which they called upon the world to condemn as apartheid a law they were able to vote against in the Israeli parliament, is especially ironic. Blacks could have only dreamed of serving in the apartheid South African parliament in its latter decades.
It was Jewish leaders and legal experts who led the fight against apartheid in South Africa, due to the morality of the Jewish people and the understanding Jews have of what it is like to be minorities in countries around the world for 1,878 years.
That feeling of what it is like to be a minority as a Jew in Europe, and seeing the antisemitism toward French Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus, compelled Theodore Herzl to write the book The Jewish State and to found the modern Zionist movement. In his book, Herzl wrote his vision of how politics in the Jewish state will protect minorities.
“Politics must take shape in the upper strata and work downward,” Herzl wrote. “But no member of the Jewish state will be oppressed. Every man will be able and will wish to rise in it. Thus a great upward tendency will pass through our people; every individual by trying to raise himself, raising also the whole body of citizens. The ascent will take a moral form, useful to the state and serviceable to the national idea.”
Protests against the Nation-State Law by Druze, which recently resumed, prove Herzl correct in hindsight. They are empowered by democracy in Israel.
They are working to build their power ahead of the forthcoming 2019 election in Israel by using the Jewish Nation-State Law, exactly as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The Arab MKs, by contrast, are crossing red lines by seeking the condemnation of their own country in key international forums. Their behavior reinforces more than ever why Israel needed to pass a Jewish Nation-State Law in order to protect itself.
Understanding the political context of the new law and the uproar over it is key. If the European Union understood that message, one can only hope that other frequent critics of Israel will too.
If that happens, 5779 will be a better and sweeter year.
The writer is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, the chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. Martinoliner@ gmail.com