Shlomo Avineri
Haaretz (Opinion)
November 21, 2011 - 1:00am

In response to the scathing criticism and pressure within his Kadima party, MK Avi Dichter retreated from his original proposal for a Basic Law on Israel - the Nation-State of the Jewish People. Instead, he proposed what was ostensibly a softened version. But anyone who opposes the first version will oppose the second. In the new version, too, the bill is unnecessary and merely deepens tensions between Jews and Arabs, as well as among various parts of the Jewish population. And it will give Israel a bad name. There is only one remedy for this bill - to shelve it completely.

One of the phrases in the amended version attests to a kind of basic insecurity. One can only be amazed that a person like Dichter, who once headed the Shin Bet security service, would be afflicted by it. Paragraph 2 states that the bill aims "to protect Israel's status as the nation-state of the Jewish people." Anyone who thinks legal wording like this or some other wording - rather than a political reality - will protect Israel is suffering from a moral eclipse. And anyone who claims, as does paragraph 1b, that "the right to realize national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people," is apparently cut off from the world.

On the major issues, the flaws in the original version have remained intact. The Arabic language's status has been harmed and it makes no difference if Hebrew is now called "the language of the state" and not "the official language." Arabic would lose its current equal status as Israel's second official language.

Paragraph 9b repeats the attempt to circumvent the ruling by the High Court of Justice in the case of the Ka'adan family and to reinstate the existence of Jewish communities closed off to Arabs. On the other hand, the paragraphs stipulating that "the state will work to gather in the exiles" (Paragraph 6 ) and "the state will act to strengthen the bond between Israel and the Jews in the Diaspora" (Paragraph 7 ) are mere rhetoric and certainly have no place in a Basic Law.

Yet the bill's supporters do not realize that their proposal will, paradoxically, grant the widest authority to the Supreme Court. An all-inclusive paragraph like 9a - "any citizen of Israel, regardless of religion or nationality, has the right to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity" - provides a wide opening for petitions to the High Court of Justice from communities around the country, and certainly the Arab community or parts of it. These communities and others would be able to flood the judicial system with incalculable claims based on the Basic Law's vague wording.

This is true too of the statement in paragraph 8a that "the history of the Jewish people, its heritage and tradition will be taught in all the educational institutions that serve the Jewish public." Since these terms are far from being obvious or acceptable to everyone, it's fairly certain that the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, would amend the school curriculum.

Presumably, Paragraph 14, which turns freedom of access to the holy places for members of all faiths into a constitutional right, would prevent the police from limiting the entry of Jews to the Temple Mount. Alternatively, it would prevent the restriction of entry by Muslim worshippers to the mosques based on age.

In short, the chaos that will reign here if the bill is passed reflects the amateurishness and hastiness of the proposal that seeks to assuage populist inclinations and ignores a long list of expected and unexpected side effects. The bill tries to create facts regarding the complex Israeli reality's most sensitive issues. That's exactly why Israeli parliamentarians have had difficulty legislating a constitution. There is no benefit in the bill, but its damage is enormous.

It's understandable that Dichter is having a hard time giving up his proposal altogether. But since he's a patriot, he hopefully will swallow his pride and take the bill off the agenda. It has no place in Israel's parliament. Israel is the Jewish nation-state and it's a democratic state, even without this damaging bill.


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