Columns International Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Law & Court Opinion

With new nation-state law, Israel shoots herself in the foot

Arab lawmakers stand in protest during a Knesset session in Jerusalem on July 19, 2018. Israel's parliament approved controversial legislation on Thursday that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people but which critics warn sidelines minorities. (AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi)

(RNS) — This afternoon, I received an email announcing a new liturgical text for Tisha b’Av, the upcoming Jewish fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. The cover of the liturgical piece quotes Isaiah: “Zion will be redeemed by justice; those who return to her with righteousness.”

Please. Not today.

Yesterday, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that enshrines in Israel’s Basic Law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.

In the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens. This is our state — the Jewish state. … Today we made it law: This is our nation, language, anthem and flag.”

Did Israel need a law that states something that’s so explicitly a central part of Zionist thinking? Didn’t the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel 70 years ago make that clear? Doesn’t the average fifth grader in an American synagogue school know that?

And, given that, why is such an obvious statement of Israel’s purpose so controversial? Why have so many diaspora Jewish groups sharply criticized this law? Not only the diaspora; President Reuven Rivlin called it a “weapon (for) our enemies.”

It is because the Nation-State Law raises not only Jewish fears but anti-Semitic canards as well, that Israel is xenophobic and exclusive. Indeed, the law demotes Arabic from being one of the official languages of Israel, along with Hebrew, to simply having a “special” status. It also permits the construction of Jewish-only communities in Israel.

If that were not enough, consider other headlines that have been emerging from Israel over the past few days. In Beit Shemesh, ultra-Orthodox Jews chased and threw stones at a girl whom they considered to be immodestly dressed. In Haifa, before dawn, police came to the home of a Conservative rabbi and arrested him for the “crime” of officiating weddings outside the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate.

More than a century ago, the Hebrew poet Zalman Shneur wrote, “The Middle Ages are approaching.” As the Conservative rabbi in Haifa, Dov Hayun, cried out on his Facebook page: “Iran is already here!”

Back to the Knesset. Thanks a lot, my brothers and sisters, for making our Jewish job out here that much harder.

What will the goyim (the nations of the world) say? For the past 70 years, we Jews have been defending Israel intellectually with a bumper sticker that reads “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Israel has made that self-satisfied piece of PR more difficult to proclaim. Some of us work full-time in fighting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which seeks to isolate Israel economically because of its flaws. We defend Israel against charges that it is or is becoming an apartheid state. To Knesset members, we say a sarcastic thanks. You just stabbed rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and Jewish community leaders in the back.

What will our children say? Recently, young Jews have started walking off Birthright trips, designed to connect them with Israeli history and culture, because they believe those trips have failed to educate them about the occupation. Setting aside the question as to whether such tactics are ideologically or strategically correct, the Knesset has just added to the pile of accusations that Jewish students will have to process when colleges open again in just over a month. The legislators of the Jewish state have just left a lot of Jewish students struggling to find the words to defend that state.

What will God say? This goes back to the quote from Isaiah and beyond. Could there be a more cynical coincidence — that Tisha b’Av is coming, and that the sages said that one of the reasons for the destruction of the Second Temple was sinat chinam, the gratuitous hatred that flowed freely between the Jews?

For all of his pious proclamations about the unity of the Jewish people, we must ask Netanyahu: Do you really believe it? Are you willing to sacrifice that unity on the altar of political expediency? Israeli leaders know that the Orthodox are on the ascendancy, both in Israel and in the United States. The rest of the global Jewish family might be expendable.

I love Israel. I just returned from two weeks there, studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where we imbibe the lived language of Jewish pluralism. I am a Zionist, because I actually do believe that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people; where Jewish values are played out in real time; where society incorporates the flow of Jewish time into its public calendar; and where love of the other, the music of Arabic language in the streets, the mixing of Jews and Arabs in the malls, the Palestinian doctor who treated me at a clinic in Jerusalem last week — these, too, are Zionism.

A great Israeli thinker once said to me: “When I think of all the ways that Israel has insulted non-Orthodox and diaspora Jews, and how you keep coming, keep giving, keep supporting us — that is a miracle. Lesser people would have walked away.”

I am not walking away. My attitude toward Israel is like Job’s attitude toward God: You want to keep testing me? Go ahead. You will not break my faith in you.

At the very least, though: Could you make it easier for us?

Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

(The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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  • At the very least, though: could you make it easier for us?

    Easy? What is this “easy” of which you speak?

  • There is an interesting parallel here. The deplorables in the United States have taken over public policy in order to Make America White Again. And the deplorables in Israel have taken over public policy in order to Make Israel Ultra-Orthodox Again.

  • There is an interesting parallel here. You call the people you disagree with in the United States, and the people you disagree with in Israel, “deplorables”.

    “Dogs bark at every one they do not know.” – Heraclitus

  • Actually this is a very poor translation of the fragment that is claimed to be from Heraclitus. The better quote from the Greek is “self-conceit is a holy disease…”

    But the quote itself is dubious when connected to Hereaclitus. The word for “self-conceit” here is actually from about four centuries later than Heraclitus and is likely something (some have argued Diogenes) where words were put into Heraclitus’ mouth.

    That said, self-conceit will often lead people to call those who hold contrary opinions “bigots” because it safely tucks them and their position away as irrelevant and subhuman and so easy to dismiss. Usually such effort is taken when a rational justification for dismissing their argument is too difficult to produce.

    Oh, I agree, lots of people would like for Trump’s message and conservatives who support him to be easily explained by such broad strokes as “make America White Again” or they are bigots. But as a African American veteran I support much (not all) of Trump’s security policies because it is my job to know (and I have experienced) the real threats that exist out there. I’m not sure if Israel’s policy is about a religious position or about a secular security position, we are still trying to make sense of it and the motivations. But that said,the world is too complicated a place to explain trends with “make (insert place) ___________ (insert characteristic) again.”

    The one commonality to both the US and Israel is we have been victimized by radicalized Islamic extremism and there are large population segments in the Arab/Muslim/radicalized world who are bent on destroying the west including the US and Israel. There methods are extreme but it would be a mistake to think extreme means small minority. The numbers are significant enough to warrant serious security measures.

  • The progressive contingent explains everything in broad strokes like “make America White again”. It supports smugness.

  • Oh, thank you for communicating with me, O Holy One, whose every progressive thought brings gales of laughter to those with brains.

  • “That said, self-conceit will often lead people to call those who hold contrary opinions “bigots” because it safely tucks them and their position away as irrelevant and subhuman and so easy to dismiss”

    Actually that is a rather brain dead and scripted way to deflect the impact of the label. It doesn’t refute it’s veracity or how appropriate a description it is. It only shows the speaker us thin skinned and is too spineless to address the criticism leveled.

    Ita being annoyed at being called a bigot but not showing why they should not be called one.

    Trumps policies have squat to do with national security. They are a white supremacist agenda which actually goes out of its way to harm Americans and of all types.

    Your last paragraph was utter garbage. This law does nothing to combat terrorism or protect Israeli freedom. It enables terrorist propaganda and gives rise to radicalising people within the nation. It literally turns a significant part of Israel’s population to second class citizens. Rather than address civil rights issues it gives fuel to foreign enemies and undermines stability. Bear in mind the ultra orthodox who wanted this, do not serve in the IDF. They are asking for people to defend ideals they don’t believe in or actively oppose.

    Much like conservative chickenhawks who duck out of service but employ belligerent rhetoric and seek to provoke conflict. As disabled veteran Senator’s pet name for the President “Cadet Bone Spurs” implies.

  • Back when they were willing to take up arms in defense. Instead of demanding others to do it for them.

  • And the “conservatives” support idiocy and treason.

    In others words, progressives are clearly superior.

  • Their claim to be exempt from service in the IDF us very odd, at best. On the other hand, if as the article mentions, they express their righteous indignation by throwing stones at girls, the IDF may be better off without them.

  • Why is that such a mystery? Decent people deplore deplorables.

    How does that not make sense to you?

    Are you stupid too?

  • Decent people don’t call people “deplorables”.

    Arrogant gits do, Hillary, alwayspuzzled (for obvious reasons), and apparently you for examples.

    No mystery at all.

  • In other words, “progressives” BELIEVE they are superior.

    At the performance level, it is is not at all demonstrable.

  • And sloppy thinking is the disease of American “conservatives” . . .

    . . . Along pathological mendacity, willful ignorance, and naivete .

    Did I leave anything out?

  • Baloney

    Progressives SHINE at the performance level.

    “Conservatives” are pure pretense and weakness at every level.

    BTW . . . Why do YOU think our Russian enemies help Republicans win elections here?

    Does Putin want our nation stronger or weaker?

  • I honor common sense.

    But it’s hard to be humble when I’m conversing with a “conservative” Trump supporter.

  • You’re just too weak to compete fairly . . . Right?

    Maybe you can get the Russians to help you.

  • Decent and intelligent people make accurate observations.

    Don’t be insulted. It’s not personal. You are what you are.

    Deplorable people are deplorable.

    Get it yet?

  • Dear Israelis,

    And through it all we have the Great Kibosh putting the kibosh to Judaism and all other religions:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • I think Israel has cut off it’s nose to spite its face. To use another phrase. BUT I doubt that many see that! The vote from what I read was close, so maybe there is hope.

    I just think this exposes the lie that Israel has portrayed from the early days, that it is a democracy, that it supports a “2 state solution”, that it respects human rights, that it is legitimate!.

  • I think you missed my point. Ultra orthodox are exempt from the universal conscription in Israel. So they don’t serve at all.

    It creates a lot of tension among Israelis. Especially when it comes to defense of the West Bank settlement. Ultra religious are putting soldiers at risk for what amounts to “manifest destiny” style colonization.

  • That is what I understood you to mean. To their credit, I think there are some who volunteer anyway. But it probably means that their neighbors throw stones at them when they are home on leave.

  • There is a movement to accept conscription. But I haven’t heard of those who do being met with that kind of hostility. (Not that it hasn’t happened, I just haven’t read of such incidents)

  • Not to worry. bob threatens to block everyone, except me. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t actually do it. His ego would starve.

  • “That said, self-conceit will often lead people whom we call bigots to call those who hold contrary opinions “professional victims”, “whiners”, “social justice warriors” and “justly discriminated against because reasons” because it safely tucks them and their position away as irrelevant and subhuman and so easy to dismiss. Usually such effort is taken when a rational justification for dismissing their argument is too difficult to produce.
    FIFY

  • I see this parallel between conservative evangelical and ultra-orthodox, explained from a conservative evangelical point of view it looks like this.

    There are nine traits known as fruit of the Spirit that you should be able to identify in a Christ follower. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. It is a quite confidence as much as it is any of the individual things and I believe there are a few conservative evangelicals who could be described this way. I also believe that a spirit of fear can produce the same traits mentioned above, in that case the traits are a passive facade to cover fear. Expose someone’s fear and what you will find is not loving, or joyful, or peaceful, or patient, or kind, or good, or faithful, or gentle, and will be, others controlling. It’s a schizophrenic way of life for both groups when fear replaces what should be confidence.

  • Amazingly, these diaspora Jewish groups are challenging the Jews’ right to self-determination in Israel. Thanks to the nation-state basic law, Israel’s Jewishness is no longer assailable at home.

  • Let’s cut the crap………………………..it hates the White Race, period.
    Deplorable = Code Word for White peoples.

  • Theocracy = tyranny. When a nation declares itself dedicated to a single religion, all hope of freedom vanishes.

  • Hey Bob…pay no attention to Ben in Oakland. Note that he has the audacity to defend a sexual predator and pedophile on another Disqus site who, among other things kept a boy locked in his hotel room for days while he was drugging and raping him. Ben is asserting on that site that his victims were “trying to find their true nature” and “searching for the right man”.

  • You really are a piece of work, aren’t you?
    No, I wasn’t. No, I wouldn’t. But it appears I now have an obsessive stalker– well another one.. However, since you wish to slander me, I think I will be doing what I never do, and will be flagging you.

  • Yes you absolutely were defending a sexual predator/pedophile…anyone can look up your comment history on Disqus and see for themselves.

  • incidentally…why do you suppose you collect what you call “stalkers”? Maybe it’s because you defend the indefensible? Victim blaming in the case of a sexual predator is absolutely disgusting.

  • Israel just did! They do however keep surviving all of their attempts to self-destruct.

  • Since they’re there and Jewish, and you’re here and not Jewish, I have a sense that they may be in a better position to assess survival in the Middle East than you are.

  • I would say that an assessment that the poster has some issues with so-called “white privilege” is a fair one.

  • “brings gales of laughter to those with brains”
    Thank you for explaining why you are not laughing, BobBob, bless your precious little BobWorld heart.

  • People often miss what is right in front of their noses Bob. AS you demonstrate frequently!

  • And as you just did.

    You have zero to lose if things go south for Israel.

    Israelis die if things go south for Israel.

    You have lost zero relatives in Israel.

    Israelis have lost grandparents, parents, siblings, and children in Israel.

    In fact if you didn’t read the über liberal screeds from what you believe to be the “enlightened” media you wouldn’t have any comments to make.

  • WRONG again Bob. We all lose. An unstable Middleeast is our problem. AND there will be no stability until the Palestinians are treated justly, and honestly.

  • If we let the Middle East become our problem, we have two problems.

    The first problem is getting ourselves involved at all.

    You are correct, there will be no stability in the Middle East.

    Treating the ungoverned rabble in Palestine “justly, and honestly”, which is code for “putting Israel at risk for nothing”, has nothing to do with it.

  • Flagged as targeted harassment. You are a liar/slanderer/reviler who apparently has nothing of value to say.

  • “There are nine traits known as fruit of the Spirit that you should be able to identify in a Christ follower. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. It is a quite confidence as much as it is any of the individual things and I believe there are a few conservative evangelicals who could be described this way.”

    I have yet to see any here who could be described this way.

    To a person, I find them trying to find excuses for the very opposite of the behavior you were listing by re-labeling it and calling it “love” and “concern”. The “Christian Love” which comes from such people is generally indistinguishable from all objective standards from hate, fear and malice.

  • Open Borders is fiction.

    Cultural Marxism is what bigots call freedom.

    Nationalism and bigotry are destroying Western Civilization. You, you are the Vandals at the gate, not the Romans inside them.

  • “I have yet to see any here who could be described this way.”

    Certainly not you or your friends.

  • It isn’t a matter of “if we let” the Middle East is our problem, whether some admit it or like it or not!

  • It may be your problem, but it is certainly not mine.

    We’ve been losing children and money over there since WWII.

    This is another situation created by the Europeans we’ve allowed ourselves to get dragged into.

  • Yup, never found much evidence of the subsequent remark either:

    “I also believe that a spirit of fear can produce the same traits mentioned above”

  • Yet you are so lazy, without skills or education of note that you think your pasty skin complexion entitles you to some merit as a person.

  • I don’t know if you heard about it, but a bunch of folks were so fed up with England’s religious oppression that they traveled across the Atlantic and set up their own country to get away from it… one with an explicitly secular government.

  • So, tyranny reigned in England?

    You seem to be unable to distinguish between tyranny and not getting things your own way.

    The United States of America does NOT have “an explicitly secular government”.

    The United States of America has a neutral government and a ban on establishing a religion.

    As a result, unlike a secular government like Mexico or France our government can’t ban wearing the burqa or clerical garb in public, nor ban religion from the public square.

    https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/dreamworks/images/9/96/Rocky_The_Flying_Squirrel_The_End.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20151017192812

  • WHAM! BLAM! Yet again our typically nasty Christian poster Bob Jose Arnzen Carioca takes a mean, unwarranted swipe at a sincere poster.

    Bob Jose, you are despicable. And all your guns should be taken away.

  • WHAM! BLAM! Yet again here our typically nasty Christian poster Bob Jose Arnzen Carioca takes a mean, unwarranted swipe at a sincere poster.

    Bob Jose, you are despicable.

  • WHAM! Yet again our typically nasty Christian poster Bob Jose Arnzen Carioca takes a mean, unwarranted swipe at a sincere poster.

    Bob Jose, you are despicable.

  • Pure irony there from habitual li​ar and bigot Bob Jose Arnzen Carioca, who name calls and insults other posters many times a day.

  • “In that case the traits are a passive facade to cover fear. Expose someone’s fear and what you find is not loving…”

    No evidence?

  • No, Bob Jose Arnzen Carioca. You are wrong as usual in your mad rantings. England was a tyranny and technically is still one, but that tyranny has been effectively gradually weakened over generations of support for a more functional democratic underlayer.

    Your grasp of history and reality is weak to non-existent, and you are a bigoted, deluded old fool.

  • It is your problem Bob whether you accept it as one or not. Your comment tells us alot more about the person you are.

  • No, it is not my problem, not because you and your “progressive” friends say it is my problem, not because Harry Truman bought a piece of the action to get votes, and not because we’ve already sunk lives and money into an intractable mess.

    The fact that you say it is my problem, but offer not ONE reason why it is, affirms a complete lack of thought process beyond parroting memes and mantras at your end.

    The USA needs to back – slowly of course – out of the imperial role it took on at the end of WWII.

    The next American life lost or dollar spent overseas should be for the benefit of Americans, and only Americans.

  • Bob is blocked. I have zero desire to see what he writes in support of the admitted, unambiguous Neo Nazi poster Mr. Hobs. 🙂

  • No, self determination was already set by the Israeli defense forces in 1947 onward.

    This is criticism of a law which undermines the nation’s democratic principles, enables terrorism, enables foreign foes, is wildly unpopular with most of the population and produces nothing beneficial for the nation as a whole.

  • To this point the only justification you’ve offered is the equivalent of “Because I say so!”

    No, thank you.

  • Perhaps the best evidence that Israel needs a constitutional affirmation of its status as the sovereign Jewish nation-state is the eagerness of so many to denounce as undemocratic measures that are considered mundane anywhere else.

  • So I guess the next step is stripping Arab Israelis of their citizenship and mass deportations?

    This was not an affirmation of status as a sovereign nation. This was a declaration that democratic principles the nation was founded on are being disregarded.

    ” so many to denounce as undemocratic measures that are considered mundane anywhere else.”

    Whataboustism is the excuse of those without values or standards. Israel deserves support for the US for being different from autocratic nations which surround it. Degenerating into autocracy is unbecoming and unworthy of the respect you are trying to give to such morally repugnant and politically boneheaded actions.

  • We can all agree that Israel is a shining star of freedom in a region, sadly, largely devoid of it.

    In truth, Israel is a veritable social justice Shangri-La compared to the rest of the Arab Middle East.

  • So what? It doesn’t make them immune from criticism. In fact it means we hold them to a higher standard of behavior than their neighbors

    Yes, whataboutism really is a tool of those of low character, without any standards. Merely excuses for garbage behavior.

  • Like any human creation, Israel is imperfect and faces problems. But what the country and its people have done in the last 70 years is something few rational individuals would have imagined possible before they did it. In our own time and with our own eyes, we have seen 70 years of miracles as the Jewish state survived, thrived and enriched the lives of all Jews, even if they lived elsewhere. That is the point of Israel at 70, and why we should pause and appreciate what it means to all of us.

  • Like any human creation, Israel is imperfect and faces problems. But what the country and its people have done in the last 70 years is something few rational individuals would have imagined possible before they did it. In our own time and with our own eyes, we have seen 70 years of miracles as the Jewish state survived, thrived and enriched the lives of all Jews, even if they lived elsewhere. That is the point of Israel at 70, and why we should pause this week and appreciate what it means to all of us.

  • You are claiming they are immune from criticism because they are surrounded by autocratic states.

    Bullshifting at its plainest. A democratic nation must always be held to higher standards of behavior then dictatorships. We expect more of them, we expect them to uphold and maintain a democratic existence. So when they move towards the autocratic, we must criticize strongly and oppose such moves. Lest we lose the reason they deserved respect in the first place.

    Your argument is immoral irrational garbage. Seeking to excuse autocratic behavior because others act in such a way. You have no standards. You seek to deflect rather than address.

  • They are immune criticism from you because you have no idea at all about that of which you speak.

  • It’s amazing how far Israel has come in only 70 years. And with the advent of globalization, Israel (unlike her neighbors) will only get stronger with the passage of time.

  • That’s nice. They are already the only country in the region anyone trusts with nuclear weapons.

    But a democratic nation gets held to higher standards than autocratic hellholes. It is why Amnesty International doesn’t go to North Korea, Uzbekistan or Central African Republic. Countries which are democracies or partly free could be pressured into upholding civil liberties.

  • If Israel opened its borders half of the Arabs in the Middle East would move there on the first day. And the other half the day after that.

  • Not relevant to the issue either. Israel has taken in refugees before. Its a major part of their early history.

  • Really?

    Who exactly “trusts” Israel with nuclear weapons?

    Israel obtained nuclear weapons under the table and maintains them without any approval by anyone.

  • The truth is, the UN health assembly should single out Israel—as a beacon of humanity.

    The UN should single out Israel because if you walk into any Israeli hospital or clinic, you will see it replete with Palestinians receiving world-class medical treatment.

  • Still not refuting my point. Democracies like Israel get more criticism, not less for being democratic.

    You think they should be praised for doing what comes as a matter of course in the rest of the developed world?

    Such low standards.

  • According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index (a ranking of 167 countries and territories based on a long list of attributes that the compilers believe constitute a modern democracy) Israel’s democracy ranks 30th in the world.

  • Making it more subject to criticism when it strays from such ideals. Like here. We expect better from them.

  • Strays from what ideals?

    And when you say “we”, outside of the voices in your head who are you speaking for?

  • Perhaps the best evidence that Israel needs a constitutional affirmation of its status as the sovereign Jewish nation-state is the eagerness of so many to denounce as undemocratic measures that are considered mundane anywhere else.

    On a side note, I find it ironic that so many left-wing Diaspora Jews (like the author) profess loyalty to Israel as a Jewish nation-state when it comes to pressuring Israel into diplomatic concessions, but balk at supporting a nationstate law that defines the State of Israel as such.