Thursday, August 04, 2011

Who Even Needs Enemies?

When I first saw this Ha'aretz article, on a new Knesset bill which would drop Arabic as one of the state languages of Israel and, more disturbingly, officially subordinate "democracy" to Jewishness in Israel's basic law, I mentally located the bill as part of the aforementioned right-wing crackup -- the new "Russian right" against old-school Likudniks like Reuven Rivlin.

It is so much worse than I thought.

The initiators of the bill include a member from Likud (Zeev Elkin), Yisrael Beiteinu (David Rotem), and Kadima (Avi Dichter). Elkin and Rotem have been the devil's pair responsible for much of the recent anti-democratic legislation floating through the Knesset, including the infamous anti-boycott law (which passed) and the anti-NGO committee (which didn't). But Kadima! And it's not just one rogue member, either: Ha'aretz claims twenty of Kadima's twenty-eight MKs have signed on as supporters (I'm assuming Livni isn't one of them, since you'd think that'd be mentioned). The law has supporters from a range of Israeli political parties, and not just the right-wing ones: Labor and Atzamaut have members who have expressed support, and Ha'aretz has sources in the Knesset who think it is likely to pass this Winter.

Okay, but surely the Israeli Supreme Court will strike it down? Doubtful: the law is actually cast as an amendment to Israel's "Basic Law", the equivalent to the Israeli constitution. The basic law sets out the basic principles which govern the Israeli state -- it is what the courts use to strike down other, offending pieces of legislation. Let's repeat that: If this bill passes, the basic law of Israel -- it's fundamental organizing precept -- will now explicitly label democracy as a subordinate value. As Elkin puts it (in support of the law!): the goal is for the judiciary to support "the state as the Jewish nation state in ruling in situations in which the Jewish character of the state clashes with its democratic character." The "only democracy in the Middle East" may be about to vote to put itself out of business.

I'm sitting here in shock. Kadima's roots are primarily Likudniks who "recognized reality", that is, who recognized the long-term untenability of maintaining Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But I guess I had convinced myself that their flight from Likud also signaled that they weren't part of the extremist anti-Arab, anti-democratic wing of that party (I figured the hardliners in that camp would have never left). Apparently not. That a reported two-thirds of Kadima's caucus supports this law is nauseating.

Meanwhile, Elkin confidently is declaring that "today the world is ready to accept this." I have no idea what he is smoking. There is precisely one country I can think of which might have an affinity for this law, because there is one prominent nation which also maintains a quasi-democratic superstructure but explicitly subordinates democratic values to those of the dominant religious faith. That would be Iran. This law, if it passes, would be a giant leap towards an Iranian-style theocracy.

Honestly -- half the time it seems like Israel doesn't even need enemies. Its own MKs are perfectly capable of taking the democratic Zionist dream and slashing it to ribbons on their own.

Somebody, please tell me I'm missing something here, because I am sick to my stomach right now.

UPDATE: It appears that most of the Kadima supporters of the bill (but not Dichter) are retreating. Dichter, for his part, appears to cast this proposed law as an alternative to demanding Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state (to wit: "[W]ith the Basic Law we can finally denote Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and not need the Palestinians' favors and recognition of us as a Jewish state.").


Nyarlethotep said...

Why, it's almost as if demanding Palestinians recognize Israel "as a Jewish state" isn't such a harmless precondition after all!

rshams said...

I had a similar reaction when I first read about the bill, but this article by Benjamin Kerstein led me to reconsider (most specifically because my Hebrew is basic-to-intermediate, and I would not have been able to decipher the nuances in the bill's language, as Kerstein does).

While, granted, Kerstein is not a Meretz voter, neither is he a knee-jerk right-winger (at least from what I could glean from his other articles, essays, Twitter feed, etc.) I wonder if you think his analysis passes the BS test.

David Schraub said...

The WJD piece is interesting, but it's hard to evaluate it -- particularly given that it's "And so on and so forth in the same vein" is ripe for abuse. In particular, the Ha'aretz piece claims the law specifically subordinates Israel's democratic character to its Jewish character when the two conflict, and Kerstein has nothing to say about that clause (the direct quote from Elkin that the law is designed to support "the state as the Jewish nation state ... in situations in which the Jewish character of the state clashes with its democratic character", at the very least, indicates that this is part of the framer's intent in drafting the law). The other main point of protest -- dropping Arabic as an official language -- is admittedly part of the bill. So I'm ultimately not placated.