Jewish nation-state law can only cause damage Daniel Friedmann/Ynetnews /Published: 11.23.14/ Israel Opinion
Op-ed: Proposed basic law will add nothing and solve nothing. In today’s explosive situation, it only has the power to worsen Israel’s relations with its minorities.
In 1980, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin led to the enactment of Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel. It was a year after he signed the peace treaty with Egypt, which promised peace on our southern border for decades.
But the agreement was difficult for Begin and his supporters: It required the evacuation of the Sinai peninsula, as well as all the communities established by Israel in Sinai, in complete contradiction with Begin’s declared stances. He had even promised that he would move into one of those communities after retiring.
The agreement also included instructions in regards to the Palestinian people’s rights, and it is very well possible that Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel served as compensation for the “dovish” agreement with Egypt. Through the law, Begin was able to prove that the proud national stand had not been abandoned, and is there a more enthusiastic act than an act of legislation clarifying that?
Jerusalem had been in the Jewish people’s heart for more than 2,000 years without any Knesset law. It had been the State of Israel’s capital without any basic law either. Moreover, despite the world’s refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, quite a few countries had moved their embassies to Jerusalem, and by 1980 the city already had nearly 20 different foreign embassies in it.
But most of the world’s nations were still unwilling to recognize Jerusalem as our capital, and it was time to “show them.”
Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel produced the opposite result of course. It was met with a strong international response. Shortly after the law’s enactment, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling for its annulment. Most of the countries which had embassies in Jerusalem moved them to the coastal plain area, and the rest did it later on. Today, there is not a single foreign embassy left in Jerusalem.
The law failed to change anything for Israel either. Jerusalem was and remains our capital. The world’s nations refuse to recognize that, and Israeli legislation trying to force them to do so means nothing to them.
Declarative laws don’t have the power to solve theoretical or social disputes. At best they are useless, but they do have the power to cause damage.
Legislation such as proposed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People will inevitably reach the Supreme Court, which will be required to decide on ideological disputes which are not in its authority. The right-wing camp, which supports this law, will find itself crying out again that the court is giving the law – which was initiated by the right itself – an activist interpretation.
We have more than enough laws which declare the state’s character, and it’s enough to mention the Law of Return, which opens the state’s gates to any Jew and his family members. We also have, by the way, the Flag, Emblem and Anthem Law, which was enacted in 1949 immediately after the state’s establishment.
The additional unnecessary declaration will not add a thing and will not solve a thing. Neither will it answer the question who is part of the Jewish people and whether the State of Israel is also the state of a person born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, or of a person who underwent a Reform or Conservative conversion.
It’s possible that the law is aimed at explaining to the Arabs the essence of the State of Israel. But legislative declarations only convince those who are already convinced, as we have learned from Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.
In today’s explosive situation, the law only has the power to cause damage and worsen our relations with the minorities, and the same could happen even if the law is moderated and softened.
And finally, if we annex the territories with all their residents, Israel will become a bi-national state, regardless of what the current Knesset writes in one law or another, even if it is called a basic law.
**Prof. Daniel Friedmann served as Israel’s justice minister from 2007 to 2009.