It is one of my sincerest wishes that as a Jew, I don’t have to have an opinion on Israel. After all, I ascribe to the belief that the State of Israel does not speak for my identity nor do policies that are enacted on another continent shape how I navigate in my own country.
However, my own attempts at neutrality were complicated over the summer by the passing of the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ on July 19 by a 62-55 vote in the Kennesent (Senate). The law states many things but most importantly are that ‘the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,’ ‘The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation’ and the downgrading of Arabic from an official language to one of ‘special status,’ according to a translation done by the Times of Israel.
All of these policies, and some others, are merely formalizations of policies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party have been or have attempted to enact. When criticized for their actions, particularly from outside governments or agencies, they have fallen on the defense that to criticize Israel is inherently an anti-semitic act. While there may be a grain of truth in some claims, it still underscores the attempts made by Netanyahu to tie all of Judaism, both religiously and ethnically, to a single political entity. In addition, when Israel is criticized by Jews, there are some who ask whether they are truly Jewish. This added layer, while not as widespread, ties the designation of a religious/ethnic category to a political entity divorced from the reality in which many Jews live.
The Netanyahu Administration, much as our own current administration, benefits from fear and playing into racial fears. On Israel’s last election day, Likud send a mass SMS message to their base reading: “voting percentages tripled among the Arab population! . . . American money are bringing Arabs to the polls. Go vote!” They also benefit from acts of terror in the US and Europe, claiming that it is evidence that Jews are not safe and must move to Israel for their own protection. This is often framed in an American Dream type of fantasy where Jews (particularly young, right-leaning men) can leave behind the land that forsook them, move to their ancestral home, settle the fields of Judea and Samaria (The West Bank), and wait for the Messiah to arrive. This is tied into the crusader fantasies about fighting Muslims that appear in Post-9/11 American politics. It also benefits the demographics that Likud would like to see represented. By pushing selective immigration, Likud can push their agenda of, in fact, creating a Jewish ethno-state.
This, however, is the farthest one can push this idea and it is likely not what will happen. The reason why I mention it, though, is because Likud’s policies and ideals go against the very spirit of Israel. The Israeli Declaration of Independence ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” It was these ideals that were expounded by the founders of the State of Israel. When the liberated survivors of Bergen-Belsen sang ‘Hatikvah,’ the song the Nation-State Law assigns as Israel’s national anthem, I doubt that they desired a Jewish ethnic state.
The State of Israel was founded under much of the same ideals as the US, and like the US it has struggled to define what those ideals mean. Netanyahu and the Likud Party do not own the right to define Judaism, and so we must not give them the power to do so.