D

o we need a piece of legislation to tell us who we are and where we belong?

The newest piece of legislation to capture the headlines, the Nation-State Bill, is what Prime Minister Netanyahu joyfully described as “a defining moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the State of Israel… 122 years after Herzl published his vision, we have stated by law the basic principle of our existence.” Actually, I didn’t bother reading the full text of the controversial law (the left and non-Jewish MKs are up in arms over it), because frankly, I already know how the Jewish Nation is defined, and my definition won’t be changed by a politically motivated vote pushed through the Knesset, even if it does anchor into law the state’s menorah emblem, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Jewish national holidays (while ensuring the right of all Israeli residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion or nationality).

Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon put it succinctly: “Our nation is a nation only by virtue of its Torahs” — a reference to both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Really, what does it matter to us whether the law includes this clause or that clause, when it adds nothing to this simple truth? We have our definition, which has stood the test of time through centuries of tribulations and will continue to describe the essence of the Jewish People. Our view of the nation of Israel will remain unchanged, no matter how many hours of sleep all those parliamentarians lost on nerve-wracking debates over precisely how to phrase the bill.

Of course, our elected representatives in the Knesset served a very important purpose in fighting over the bill’s wording. Their efforts were aimed toward removing potential legal pitfalls that might be used by the enemies of Judaism to take a few more bites out of the scarred and emaciated body of the “status quo” that confines the State of Israel’s Torah observance on the national scale. May they be blessed for all they’ve done to minimize the damage and ward off trouble. And of course, our chareidi representatives’ support of the law stemmed from coalitionary concerns. The prime minister is very much counting on this law to help him in his attempts to stop Israel’s Supreme Court from satisfying its appetite to turn the country into a “state of all its citizens.”

Time will tell whether Netanyahu will achieve his aims. In the meantime, as long as the Supreme Court justices chosen by the left-wing elite continue to wield power, we can assume that they will continue to interpret every law, and even Israel’s Declaration of Independence, in ways that contradict the simple meaning of the words and the intent of those who so laboriously formulated them. Presumably, such will also be the fate of this new Nation-State Bill. Whatever Bibi may mean to achieve through the law, we can be sure that the court will do its best to twist it backwards.

As important as the law is, it will in no way represent Torah values. It won’t prevent the continued assimilation of Israel’s youth, any more than it prevented Netanyahu’s own son from dating a non-Jewish girl (but then again, perhaps this sort of thing is included in the definition of “Judaism” that Bibi is trying to preserve with his legislation). It might even have quite the opposite effect due to its manifold clauses, and open the way for an influx of Reform and Conservative Jews, complete with non-Jewish partners, into Israel’s population base — fighting assimilation with assimilation.

One thing the bill has already accomplished — merely by stating that Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jewish People while its national policy remains tolerant toward others living within its borders — is that it has exposed the hypocrisy of the liberal Israeli left. With their bitter outcry against the bill and their call for abolition of the concept of a Jewish state in favor of a “state of all its citizens,” the left has abandoned the supposedly fundamental tenet of Zionism, that there should be a Jewish state for the Jewish People. Until now, the real intention of secular Zionism has been covert, but now they’ve been maneuvered into showing where they’re really trying to lead.

The Druze community too is in an uproar over the bill, and that is truly a pity. Experts who have studied the law have found nothing in it to the detriment of these very dedicated citizens, but it’s been no use. Like a genie out of a bottle, the feeling of being victims of racial discrimination has burst forth, and there is no way of stuffing it back into the bottle now. Druze MKs have resigned, and that can still be considered a symbolic political gesture. But when army officers from the Druze community start handing in their stripes and announcing their resignation from the army, we know we’re looking at a potential crisis. There could be a domino effect, leading more officers and ordinary soldiers to hand back their uniforms. That would be a tragic outcome, and we should not scoff at the possibility, because that sense of being second class is often rooted deep in the subconscious, and once it has been stirred — even if the prime minister was to invite these soldiers to a lavish party and exercise all his talent for fine words of praise — it’s usually too late to turn the clock back. Enemies from the New Israel Fund have also joined the muckraking festival and appear to have found a new field of fertile ground to sow dissent among the Israeli people for their own dubious purposes. And so, the greatest enemies of Bibi’s law have popped up where he wasn’t expecting it. Will he withstand the challenge?

By last week, with the mass demonstration of Arabs against the Nation-State Bill joined by Israeli Jews of the left, Netanyahu’s crisis seems to have deepened. And the most blatant challenge of all came from Israeli Arabs who demonstrated last Motzaei Shabbos in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. While they waved the PLO’s terror flag, it was the ultimate insult against the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, tantamount to declaring a Palestinian state in the heart of Tel Aviv. Bibi, it seems, got the law passed just under the wire in order to protect Israel’s status as a Jewish state. And despite the damage to relations with the loyal Druze community and with the generally disloyal minority of Arabs, the law’s passage is a boon to Netanyahu himself, as it gives him the opportunity to showcase the crisis he is trying to deal with.

Yet all this drama surrounding a rather sudden move to demonstrate by legislation that this is a Jewish state has certainly served to show that Zionism has not provided the solution for the Jewish People still awaiting Redemption. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 723)