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Israel Moves To Become Formal Ethnocracy

In a seemingly inevitable move the Israel government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formally moved to restrict national rights in Israel to Jews alone. The law has passed the cabinet and if it passes parliament then the pretense of a pluralistic democracy is over – to be a true Israeli one must be Jewish, full stop. Undoubtedly longtime critics of Israel’s democratic posturing will say same as it ever was, but making such a policy law will put to rest all reasonable objections against Israel being defined as an ethnocracy.

The law will put non-Jewish Israelis in second class citizen status though determining who is and is not a Jew as never been an easy problem to solve in Israel. Many Israelis are secular and do not practice Judaism though are considered ethnically Jewish based on bloodlines while some practicing Jews have no such bloodlines. And, of course, there are those who are neither practicing Jews nor have Jewish bloodlines – a particular problem after the wave of Russian immigrants to Israel in the late 20th century which involved many people exaggerating or inventing their connection to Judaism and the Jewish community in order to get out of the Soviet Union.

So this should be interesting.

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved contentious draft legislation that emphasizes Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic nature in a move that critics said could undermine the fragile relationship with the country’s Arab minority at a time of heightened tensions. The promotion of a so-called nationality law has long stirred fierce debate inside Israel, where opponents fear that any legislation that gives pre-eminence to Israel’s Jewishness could lead to an internal rift as well as damage Israel’s relations with Jews in other countries and with the country’s international allies…

Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, said there had long been tension between the halves of the term “Jewish democracy,” as Israel defines itself. Speaking by telephone from New York, where he was attending a conference at the United Nations, Mr. Tibi said the proposed legislation “confirms that the Jewish and democratic state is fiction.” He described Israel instead as a “Judocracy” that would never recognize the collective rights of a minority that has long suffered discrimination.

With neofascism on the rise in Israel the prime minster appears to be trying to quell his right flank by co-opting part of their agenda. It is a delicate balancing act as the controversy around the nationality law shows. Netanyahu may keep his party colleagues and coalition partners happy with the nationality law but the backlash for tossing aside a sacred national belief/myth in the process – that Israel is a democracy – could end up being just as threatening in the long term. With the formal suspension of democracy also may come a loss of legitimacy for the Israeli government creating problems at home and abroad.

And, if it wasn’t obvious, this guarantees the already anemic peace process goes comatose. Does this mean there are no democracies in the Middle East now?

CommunityThe Bullpen

Israel Moves to Become Formal Ethnocracy

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In a seemingly inevitable move the Israel government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formally moved to restrict national rights in Israel to Jews alone. The law has passed the cabinet and if it passes parliament then the pretense of a pluralistic democracy is over – to be a true Israeli one must be Jewish, full stop. Undoubtedly longtime critics of Israel’s democratic posturing will say same as it ever was, but making such a policy law will put to rest all reasonable objections against Israel being defined as an ethnocracy.

The law will put non-Jewish Israelis in second class citizen status though determining who is and is not a Jew as never been an easy problem to solve in Israel. Many Israelis are secular and do not practice Judaism though are considered ethnically Jewish based on bloodlines while some practicing Jews have no such bloodlines. And, of course, there are those who are neither practicing Jews nor have Jewish bloodlines – a particular problem after the wave of Russian immigrants to Israel in the late 20th century which involved many people exaggerating or inventing their connection to Judaism and the Jewish community in order to get out of the Soviet Union.

So this should be interesting.

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved contentious draft legislation that emphasizes Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic nature in a move that critics said could undermine the fragile relationship with the country’s Arab minority at a time of heightened tensions. The promotion of a so-called nationality law has long stirred fierce debate inside Israel, where opponents fear that any legislation that gives pre-eminence to Israel’s Jewishness could lead to an internal rift as well as damage Israel’s relations with Jews in other countries and with the country’s international allies…

Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, said there had long been tension between the halves of the term “Jewish democracy,” as Israel defines itself. Speaking by telephone from New York, where he was attending a conference at the United Nations, Mr. Tibi said the proposed legislation “confirms that the Jewish and democratic state is fiction.” He described Israel instead as a “Judocracy” that would never recognize the collective rights of a minority that has long suffered discrimination.

With neofascism on the rise in Israel the prime minster appears to be trying to quell his right flank by co-opting part of their agenda. It is a delicate balancing act as the controversy around the nationality law shows. Netanyahu may keep his party colleagues and coalition partners happy with the nationality law but the backlash for tossing aside a sacred national belief/myth in the process – that Israel is a democracy – could end up being just as threatening in the long term. With the formal suspension of democracy also may come a loss of legitimacy for the Israeli government creating problems at home and abroad.

And, if it wasn’t obvious, this guarantees the already anemic peace process goes comatose. Does this mean there are no democracies in the Middle East now?

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.