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Israel and the politics of superiority

Autor Rainer Hermann
Rainer Hermann
July 19, 2018

Israel's new nation-state law has jettisoned the standards it established in its own declaration of independence. The legislation enshrines a policy of superiority, says journalist Rainer Hermann.

Israeli nationalist demonstrators
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Kahana

The concept of the nation-state law, a project put forth by the Israeli far right, has been passionately debated for more than five years. Now the Knesset, Israel's parliament, has passed the controversial and constitutionally binding measure with surprising speed before its summer recess, albeit with a thin majority. The law codifies the fact that Israel is a Jewish national state and includes measures that cement the discrimination of non-Jewish minorities in the country.

No broad consensus in society

It is conspicuous that right-wing Israelis close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed through this new act of self-determination for the state of Israel without concern for establishing a broad consensus within society. With that, the law appears to continue a trend in which fundamental changes — whether Brexit or the new Turkish constitution — have been pushed through with a razor-thin majority over strong resistance from the minority. The nation state law has divided the Jewish people; with resistance in the diaspora even greater than in Israel itself.

Rainer Hermann
Hermann is a journalist at the Frankfurter Allgemeine ZeitungImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Jewish-nationalist settlers and ultra-orthodox parties, however, refused to yield in their quest to reshape the state to conform to their own ideals, just as they have done with Israeli society. With Donald Trump in the White House, they also have a United States president who is sympathetic to the country's far right. And in Europe, ever more ethno-nationalist politicians and parties are calling the shots. It was no coincidence that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, of all people, was on a visit to Israel when the law was passed.

Democracy and equality earn no mention

And ultimately, the Arab world is too busy with its own conflicts to give its full attention to the plight of the Palestinians to the degree to which it did when hundreds of thousands of them were displaced during the foundation of the state of Israel.

Read more: 70 years of Nakba: The ongoing struggle of Palestinian refugees

Israel's declaration of independence set new standards at the time by emphasizing democracy and equality for all — regardless of religion or ethnicity. But neither democracy nor equality are mentioned in the new nation state law. Instead non-Jewish minorities have lost the right to self-determination, the Arabic language has been downgraded and the creation of purely Jewish settlements has been declared an issue of national interest. That is not a policy of equality, it is a policy of superiority — one that does not shy away from conflict.