Netanyahu, Ignoring Historical Irony, Wants Israel to Be a Volkisch State

netanyahuIt is ironic that Binyamin Netanyahu wants to walk Israel at least partway down the path Adolf Hitler took Nazi Germany, by declaring Israel a “nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people.” Nazi Germany, you may remember, was also nation state of one people only – the German people – and no other people.

Netanyahu says,

The state of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the state of Israel as a nation state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status.

Netanyahu claims that the rights of minorities will be respected, but though the Israeli declaration of independence of 1948 says Israel is a “Jewish state,” he asserts “that the state of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people is not sufficiently expressed in our basic laws, and this is what the draft basic law is meant to provide.” Oh, “Jewish state” is not clear enough for you?

According to Adolf Hitler, the state was, as he wrote in Mein Kampf, a “means to an end” – a “community of physically and psychologically homogenous beings.” The entity to be combated was the Volksfeind (“enemy of the people”) who “is always the same and never changes. He is the enemy of the racial, völkisch (ethnic-nationalist) and spiritual substance of our people.”

The dangers of rampant nationalism have been well defined by two world wars and those of ethnic nationalism by an ideology that refined racial thinking to truly evil levels. Sadly, history has taught us nothing. But you would think that a state founded by survivors of the holocaust would be more aware than others of those dangers.

Not so. Barak Ravid explains in Haaretz:

In recent years, “nation-state laws” has become a code name for laws designed to compel the High Court to prioritize the state’s Jewish identity over its democratic identity. People who were involved in the formulation of Netanyahu’s declaration said that the exact wording for the law has yet to be determined, but that he definitely intends to follow through with the plan.

Over the past few years, Netanyahu has taken steps to thwart a vote on a number of controversial bills on this issue, including MK Yariv Levin and Habayit Hayehudi faction chairman MK Ayelet Shaked’s bill that was recently put before the Knesset. Inter alia, the bill – a relatively moderate version of the bill proposed in the previous Knesset by former MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) – called for not granting Arabic status as an official language. The new version states that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people and that the right to realize this national self-definition in Israel is reserved for the Jewish people.

It is easy to see the drift, as was seen in Nazi Germany, to a “Jewish national body” which of necessity is different from and superior to those who are not Jewish, just as the Volksfeind were not Aryan. You cannot help but be a second class citizen in a country that rejects you. Palestinians whose ancestors have lived on that land for centuries, find themselves excluded by definition.

This is a slippery slope Netanyahu wishes to lead his nation down. It is not only a “differential notion of nationhood” as The Guardian terms it, but if Jewish is not to be understood as purely a religion, then what is it? Not all Jews are Semitic. There are Russian Jews, there are African Jews, there are Eastern European Jews and American Jews. What, precisely, is a Jew? And what precisely, are Jewish values and why are they superior to Palestinian values?

Herb Keinon writes in the Jerusalem Post that “The State of Israel’s existence, he said, flows from it being the ‘national home of the Jewish people’ and the deep link between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel” but here too we have problems: What is the land of Israel and what does it include? There are serious historical problems between conceptions of Israel in the Old Testament and the facts on the ground. Some might imagine Israel to extend to the Mediterranean coast for example, but historically, Israel never extended to the coast. The coast was the domain of Pagan peoples.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni opposes the proposed changes and prefers the law to refer to Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people and a democratic state.” This might seem a bit mealy-mouthed but she is right to worry about a law that puts Jewishness (however that might be defined) above democratic values. Said a spokesperson:

We will absolutely not allow the state’s democratic values to be infringed, weakened or made subordinate to the Jewish values. This is the essence of the Scroll of Independence and the basis of our existence. The justice minister has previously opposed such initiatives and will do the same again, even if the proposal is coming from the prime minister.

It is very easy to see Republicans claiming that our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution are not clear enough on the matter of the United States being a “Christian Nation” and that therefore we have to make a few changes to more accurately reflect what the Founding Fathers somehow neglected to do.

Already the Religious Right wants to be Christianity above democratic values, and the Bible above the Constitution: “Laws designed to compel the High Court to prioritize the state’s Jewish identity over its democratic identity” is easily understood by those of us who realize the threat of theocracy to be “laws designed to compel the Supreme Court to prioritize the state’s Christian identity over its democratic identity.”

There is no room in a world become increasingly small and interdependent, for Volkisch thinking. It is a sad and inglorious relic of our past, and for Israel of all nations to embrace this ideology is especially repugnant.

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