Israel’s Nation State Law

Over my years as a Rabbi, I have embraced, and when necessary, defended the term: “Jewish State” in reference to Israel. But, I always acknowledged that this term means something different to each individual and that it was important that, as a Jewish people, we engage in discussion about what that term should mean.

In 2010, I delivered a Kol Nidre sermon on the subject and spoke about my own interpretation of those two words. You can read the sermon here:

This month, Israel passed a law referred to the Nation State Law which identified Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. I am not alone in my belief that the passage of this law was a tragic moment in the life of the country.

You can read the text of the law here:

It has been argued by some that nothing changed with the passage of this law and that all that it did was put on paper what has been true all along.

But, that is not true.

It is not true for two major reasons. The first is that this law omitted any reference to equality and justice for all citizens. These thoughts were certainly found in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: ” (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”

Many members of the Knesset urged that some echo of this language should have been included in the nation-state law but it was not and its absence is glaring. Stating that self-determination applies only to the Jewish people within Israel excludes Israel’s minority citizens, including the Druze who fight in the Israel Defense Forces, from being equal citizens within the state. The message sent was clearly an additional exclusion of Israeli Arabs who, while enjoying certain benefits that minority groups do not in other countries, including representation in the parliament, are clearly victims of discrimination. The reduction in the status of Arabic which was once an “official” language of the state sends another negative and exclusionary message.

Discriminatory and exclusive language have harmed our people through the centuries. It is shameful that the “Jewish State” should use language of this kind.

But, there is another reason why I consider the passage of this law as tragic and I referred to it earlier and in my sermon.

As long as the term Jewish State was not defined, there was always the option to “spin” the term in a very positive way: a state whose symbols were Jewish, which was dedicated to supporting and caring for endangered Jews throughout the world and one which endorsed Jewish values among them the belief in the equality of all people. That may not have been everyone’s interpretation and I respect that. But, as long as it wasn’t “codified” in law, there was at least the option to interpret it this way.

Now, with the passage of the law, the amorphous term has been defined and in a way which, I believe, is contrary to the principles of our faith and will be dangerous and harmful to the State.

It is certainly a sad moment in the history of the State of Israel.

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