Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The eclipse of the Zionist Left - Uri Heitner

by Uri Heitner

There never used to be any dispute between Right and Left about Israel's status as the national homeland of the Jewish people. In the past decade, the Left has adopted a post-Zionist narrative.

The nation-state bill had its inception at the Institute for Zionist Strategies over a decade ago. In light of the growing schism in the Israeli public, the disputes over the borders, the settlements, peace, and security, the law was designed to rally all Zionist layers around a broad, shared agreement that the essence of the country is – regardless of its borders – as the national home of the Jewish people. The bill was designed to reaffirm the principles expressed in Israel's  Declaration of Independence, which all streams of Zionism have in common, despite their disagreements.

The original version of the bill went much farther than the current wording, which was softened over the years. Former (and soon to be again) Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni was offered the chance to present the bill to the Knesset. She was enthusiastic. Later, she got cold feet, possibly skittering sideways to her voter base, and reversed her position. Now she is a major opponent of the law, even in its watered-down version. But Livni isn't the issue; her opposition to the bill is a symptom of the sad story of the Zionist Left over the past decade.

At first, the bill generated objection on the grounds that it was unnecessary and restated what was obvious. Gradually, the opposition to the bill morphed into a foreign ideology that denigrated Zionism. The post-Zionist poison that sees a contradiction between Israel being both a Jewish and a democratic state took root among the Zionist Left, to the point where it started characterizing the bill as an attack on the democratic nature of the country.

According to this message, the Jewish and democratic elements are opposites, and there is a zero-sum game in which the more Jewish the country is, the less democratic it becomes, and vice versa – in opposition to Zionist reasoning, according to which "Jewish" and "democratic" are integral elements in the nature of the state.

Suddenly, the Left has turned the most basic truths of Zionism and the Declaration of Independence into "nationalism," if not "racism."

"We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel, to be known as the State of Israel" – is this definition, the very core of the Declaration of Independence, unacceptable? Nationalist? Racist? Could this declaration have been made today? How did the Labor movement, which throughout its history was devoted to Jewish settlement in Israel, start taking aim at Jewish settlement, which it suddenly started seeing as "racist"?

This law doesn't entail even the slightest harm to the country's democratic character, or the rights and status of the Arabs of Israel. True, the law does not spell out the rights of minorities, because that is not its subject. The law is not an entire constitution, merely one constitutional pillar. The constitutional basic laws anchor the individual rights of all citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity. The nation-state law focuses on Israel being the national home of the Jewish people.

I'm not happy that this important piece of legislation has passed because the law, which was designed to express a consensus about Zionism, met with opposition from nearly half of all Knesset members. The Zionist Union and Yesh Atid's stance against the bill is a kind of an eclipse. The Labor party's foundations are getting shaky.

Uri Heitner


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