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August 9, 2018 2:28 pm

International Hypocrisy on Israel’s Nation-State Law: What’s Good for the Goose Is Not Good for the Gander

avatar by Micha Danzig


The Israeli flag at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Photo: Hynek Moravec via Wikimedia Commons.

The uproar over Israel’s “nation-state” law has once again demonstrated the different standard that so many hypocrites, bigots, and various well-meaning but misguided people impose on Israel.

I recently traveled to Catalonia. Besides the delicious food, incredible beaches, incredible art, very warm weather — and equally warm people (if you are an Israeli, this should sound familiar) — one of the things I noticed everywhere I went in Barcelona, Girona, and Figueres was the popularity and prominence of the Catalonian independence movement.

Everywhere in Catalonia one sees the Catalonian flag, signs demanding the freedom of Catalonian political prisoners, signs lamenting the delay of Catalonian independence, and signs welcoming visitors to the “Republic of Catalonia.”

A sign common in Catalonia. Photo: Micha Danzig.

Despite the fact that there are more than 2.5 million non-Catalans living in Catalonia (under Spanish rule) — out of a population of 7.5 million — it is clear, based on the vote on the Catalan Independence Referendum in 2017, that the overwhelming majority of people in Catalan wish to be independent from Spain. It’s also clear that they wish to have the right to self-determination and sovereignty from foreign rule in their indigenous homeland, just like numerous other indigenous peoples in Europe have relatively recently achieved: the Czechs, the Latvians, the Slovaks, the Poles, etc.

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If the Catalan people were to achieve their independence from Spain, then given the importance of the Catalan language to Catalan identity, one of the foundational laws for a newly independent Catalan would likely be one cementing that the national language of Catalonia is Catalan, and not Spanish. This is similar to Latvia, which only recognizes Latvian as the official language of the country and rejects Russian as an official language — even though it is the first language (or mother tongue) of about one-third of the people in Latvia.

Similarly, if the Catalan people were to achieve their independence, they would likely embed in their laws a statement regarding the Catalan’s people exclusive right to self-determination in their relatively tiny country, similar to what is set forth in the preamble to the Estonian Constitution.

In light of the number of Catalonians living outside of the indigenous and historical lands of the Catalan people, it is also likely that a Catalonian law would mirror the immigration laws of Italy, Ukraine, Ireland, or Poland (among many other countries), and would offer near-immediate citizenship to people of Catalonian descent who live in the Catalan diaspora.

Given the importance of Catalan identity to the people of Catalonia and the pride that most Catalonians have in their history and heritage, it would also make sense for the Catalonians — if they were to ever gain their independence — to have laws in place like the Republic of Armenia, which promote the development of Catalonian culture, the preservation of Catalonian culture, and the repatriation and settlement of Catalonians.

Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, is, similar to Armenia, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and others — the sole state of an indigenous people whose land has often been occupied by colonial powers. And Israel recently passed a “nation-state” law that in many respects reflects what a Catalan “nation-state” law would likely look like.

In fact, if you replaced “Israel” with “Catalonia,” “Arabic” with “Spanish,” “Hebrew” with “Catalan,” and “Jewish people” with “Catalan people,” the recently passed “nation-state” law in Israel — with a few exceptions that are specific to Israel and the Jewish people (such as the symbol of the state being the Star of David) — would make a very good starting point for a Catalonian “nation-state” law.

And this illuminates the most egregious issue with all of the hand-wringing and accusations of discrimination being hurled at Israel and its government over the new law.

One problem with all of the hyperbole over Israel’s legislation is the failure by most of its most vociferous critiques to acknowledge that it was passed to fill a void regarding the essential purpose and identity of the state — because, just like Britain, Israel does not have a written constitution and instead relies on sets of “Basic Laws” to identify its core principles.

Another problem with the over-the-top “sky is falling” criticism is that many of the people who claim that the Jewish “nation-state” law somehow infringes on individual liberty or signals the imminent end of democracy in Israel, ignore the fact that Israel already has Basic Laws to protect individual freedoms (such as the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty), and to define the various branches of government (such as the Basic Law: The Knesset).

Certainly, another significant problem with much of the criticism is the numerous people who decry the alleged racism of the law. These people claim that it somehow destroys the rights of minorities in Israel, all while they cannot credibly identify a single provision in the law that contradicts or supersedes Israel’s other Basic Laws (which protect and guarantee the individual rights of all Israeli citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender).

All of the foregoing are good reasons for lamenting the attacks on Israel’s democratically-elected leaders passing a law designed to define the identity of the country, and to enshrine into law its fundamental purpose, which is to be the sovereign, independent state and safe haven of the Jewish people in their indigenous homeland (all while still being the only country in the entire Middle East that provides full civil rights and civil liberties to all of its citizens). However, the most despicable aspect of all of this, is the Grand Canyon-size different standard imposed on Israel.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Ireland, Armenia, and numerous other countries all have similar laws — yet there has been no deluge of newspaper articles (as has been the case with Israel) breathlessly reporting on how their laws signal the end of democracy in those countries. And if the Catalans, Kurds, Tibetans, or some other indigenous people are able — like the Jewish people — to establish an independent state in their indigenous homeland, then (if history is any indicator) the odds are pretty good that they too will be able to pass similar laws seeking to identify and protect the fundamental purpose of their country, all without being subject to vitriol and absurd “sky is falling” pronouncements of tyranny and oppression by the BBCs and CNNs of the world.

Sadly, if there is one constant in our dynamic and ever changing world, it is that Israel is not only held to a higher standard than every other country, but that it is held to an impossible, ever-changing standard — a standard that is applied to no one else. There is a term for discriminating against the world’s only Jewish state by holding it to a different standard than is applied to all other countries: it is “antisemitism.” And that, is something all people (and certainly all Jews) should oppose, even those who are not supporters of the Jewish “nation-state” law.

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