In case you hadn’t heard, there was a recent “Nation-State Law” adopted in Israel. It says the following as reported by haaretz.com:
So the question is, “Is it good or bad for Israel?” Well, that depends on what part of Israel we look at.
There is the part of Israel that still lives in the shadow of the holocaust, a very understandable mindset given the fact that holocaust survivors are still living and walking among us, bearing constant testimony that the Jewish people are in fact an endangered species that therefore MUST fortify and protect its national/ideological identity at all costs in the face of never-ending adversities. This Israel is usually reactionary, on the defense and anxious, and who can fault them?
There is also the part of Israel that is convinced of the fact that our national “resurrection” of the recent 70 years has reached a point of such strength, fortitude and stability that it needs not be obsessively defended any longer as if the slightest breeze of opposition can knock it off base. This Israel is relaxed, self-assured, open minded, proud of our remarkable accomplishments. Its motivation is to find our place among the nations of the world as a respected and appreciated enlightened democracy and an economic powerhouse.
And then there is the part of Israel that actually believes in God and draws its sense of purpose and direction from the Bible, the divine mandate. This Israel is walking the tight rope of trying to balance seemingly contradictory biblical principles that on the one hand command the Jewish people to uphold and preserve their identity in their Promised Homeland, while at the same time showing hospitality and granting equal justice to the foreigners dwelling in our midst.
And finally, there is the vast number of Israelites who are scattered in between those camps, populating the regions of “I’m not sure what’s really going on,” and “frankly, I don’t care.” These good folks are simply too busy living the good life we enjoy here in Israel, too disillusioned with politics, or most probably a combination of both.
Technically speaking, as some argue, this law is not necessary at all as it basically states the obvious since our Declaration of Independence, Basic Laws, successive court rulings, the majority of our citizens, and the international community all recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. In other words, why bother irritating and scaring our minorities while frustrating our international friends in order to drive home the sensitive and “politically incorrect” facts that everyone already knows?
The opponents fear that a hyper nationalistic interpretation of the Nation-State Law will grant national preferences to the Jewish majority of Israel in matters of human rights and economic opportunity, damaging Israel’s image as an enlightened and inclusive democracy. The advocates of the law fear that without such clear legislation, Israel’s historic and biblically centered identity will continue to erode toward a complete “Mission Creep” where we lose touch with our original purpose and risk losing our identity. Both are scary propositions, and both should be avoided.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence, our founding document from 1948, clearly declares that Israel “is the national home of the Jewish people” while also stipulating that the state “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” Not bad at all for a fledgling, isolated state whose actual existence and viability were seriously doubted by both friend and foe at that time. And if Israel found the courage and moral fortitude to take that generous and noble stand 70 years ago, why are we doubting ourselves today?
The divine mandate, for those Israelites who actually believe its message to be relevant for us today, says that “after you enter the land I am giving you as a home … the same laws and regulations will apply to you and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Numbers 15:2, 15:16,) Even more, the Bible requires us to love our minorities. Why? Because “… you are to love the foreigner, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Ouch!
So, is this recent Nation-State Law good or bad for Israel? It’s neither good nor bad; it is simply necessary. Necessary as a natural outcome of our intensifying national conversation trying to come to terms with our true identity and calling as a Jewish nation back in our homeland.
Because, if we are merely the result of biological, political and societal dynamics spreading across thousands of years of incredible highs and lows, accomplishments and struggles, then we had better do our best to play the favorable cards the universe dealt us in recent decades, join the family of nations as an equal player, and stop irritating the world with our “Jewish uniqueness.”
However, if there is truth to the ancient claims of God on our people, and if it is by His purpose and sovereignty that we were carried through millennia of pain and brought to a safe harbor in this last chapter of our history according to many prophecies of our own prophets, then we had better open our hearts and focus our attention on God and His word to gain a better understanding of who we truly are and what is going on around us.
Warning from what he considered the impending danger of the Jewish nation forgetting its identity and purpose, our national poet/prophet, Nathan Alterman, wrote in his poem (published after his death) “Satan then said:”
“Satan then said
How do I overcome
This besieged one?
He has courage
And implements of war
…only this shall I do,
I’ll dull his mind
And cause him to forget
The justice of his cause.”
I pray that Israel’s national memory be jarred, refreshed, and if need be re-charged to embrace the greater truths that while we are called by God to be set apart from other nations, we are also destined to be a light to those nations. And the real question that still eludes many of our people is why and for what purpose the Jewish nation was created and set apart in the first place?
Not a small task, I agree. Certainly not one that we can accomplish by our own wisdom.