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Reflections on the Nation-State Law... Once again bad planning

 

August 17, 2018



I think I have read almost every commentary on the Nation-State Law that the Knesset passed last week by a slim margin (62 in favor, 55 against). Most of the commentary has been by people with more experience than I have in analyzing such laws and perhaps even more intelligence. And the arguments on both sides, for and against, all make sense given the differing perspectives of the writers.

But without going into the merits of the law, or the lack thereof, once again the passage of the Nation-State Law demonstrates the government’s inability to look down the road and consider what the fallout could be from the passage of such a bill, and how best to minimize that fallout. It’s almost as if the government doesn’t care about the reaction.

For example, anyone with half a brain could have predicted that downgrading Arabic from an official language of the state to one with “special status” was going to cause a great deal of angst among the 21 percent of Israel’s citizens who are Arab. And it should. 

Yes, this is Israel, the national language is Hebrew and the government has a right to determine the national language. That would have been a cogent argument in 1948 when Israel declared its independence. But having had Arabic as an official language for 71 years to now say it has “special status” is a downgrade, and has taken something away from the Arab population of the country. There is no other way to see this and the Arab population has a right to be upset about it.    

Similarly, a thinking person who cares about the future of this country and all its citizens could have predicted that omitting a phrase guaranteeing equality for all its citizens would generate disappointment and frustration among those non-Jewish citizens of Israel who also pay taxes, serve in the military (some of them), and are generally quite content living in a Jewish state.

So it is then entirely understandable that the Druze community feels somewhat disenfranchised by the new legislation, and rightfully so. After all, as has been pointed out so many times in the past week, their cemeteries full of their sons, fathers and husbands who have fought for Israel for the last 71 years should have guaranteed them the right to serious consideration.      

The prime minister’s attempt to mollify that portion of the population with a special set of benefits, thereby creating three classes of citizenship in Israel (i.e. Jews, Druze and Arabs) is a red flag for those concerned about the demise of democracy here.

While it well may be true that there are no substantive issues that have been changed by this law because other basic laws provide alternative coverage, the fact is that when perception and reality are in conflict, the perception becomes the reality, which is what happened here.

So could this brouhaha have been avoided and could the vote have been more heavily in favor of the law? No doubt by addressing both issues, more members of the Knesset would have voted for it. It is also quite amazing that after deliberating on the text for six years the result was not something palatable to more members of the Knesset. While no one would expect that the Arab members of the Knesset would ever vote for a Nation-State Bill no matter its text, a vote in the Knesset on such a bill should certainly not have been one that divides the Jewish members into Zionist and non-Zionist factions.

But, planning in general is not our strong point and the events of the past week bear testimony to the truth of that statement.

At the end of the day the issue is not whether the law is a good one or not, but rather why the government could not have figured out how to handle it better. Unless, of course, it was all concocted by the leadership to create an “us and them” mentality in the run-up to the next election. Should that be the case, we are all worse off as a result, whether we agree or disagree with the law itself.

Sherwin Pomerantz is a 34-year resident of Jerusalem, President of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based business development consultancy and former National President of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel.

 

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