Opinion: What makes Israel different from other nation-states?

The real racism is denying the Jewish people the same right of national self-determination that Arabs, Norwegians, Czechs and Japanese take for granted.

By: Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Israel’s new Jewish nation-state law says nothing new and changes nothing in practice. However, it has not prevented an avalanche of widespread condemnation at home and abroad. Harsh critics have accused Israel of abandoning democracy and embracing “racism.”

One of Israel’s harshest critics, the European Union, issued a statement expressing concern that the new Israeli law would “complicate or prevent” the two-state solution. However, Brussels did not elaborate on how the new Jewish nation-state law contradicts a peaceful two-state solution.

In reality, the two-state solution always envisioned two states for two nations, one of which happens to be Jewish. This is also consistent with the UN’s partition plan in 1947 that called for the establishment of an Arab and a Jewish state in the former British Palestine Mandate.

By contrast, it was always understood and accepted that the other state would be Arab and mainly Muslim.

Opposition towards the new law has mainly focused on two issues. One concerns the Jewish identity of Israel. The new law says: “The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, religious and historic right to self-determination.”

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This is hardly anything new and is consistent with Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May 1948. Like it or not, reborn Israel has been a Jewish nation-state for the past 70 years. It is also consistent with international law and the universal principle of self-determination that justifies the existence of nation-states for Danes, Arabs, Poles and Japanese.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation representing 57 Muslim majority countries called the new law “racist, void and illegitimate.” Similar inflammatory statements were issued across the Arab world. However, none of the harsh Muslim and Arab critics were able to articulate the alleged “racism” of a tiny Jewish state similar in size to New Jersey. By contrast, nobody questions the existence of 21 Arab states covering a vast area larger than the United States.

Critics have also condemned the law for stating that “Hebrew is the language of the state.” This is no different than in most European nation-states. Danish is the language of the state in the liberal democracy of Denmark while Spanish is the language of the Spanish state. Apart from few exceptions like multilingual Switzerland, no European democracy has given equal status to the languages and cultures of minority citizens, not even those of sizeable and growing minorities.

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By contrast, Arabic has long been recognized as a second official language of Israel alongside Hebrew. The new law does not undermine the Arabic language in Israel. The legal text states: “The Arabic language has a special status in the state; the regulation of the Arab language in state institutions or when facing them will be regulated by law.”

Israel is a robust democracy and is no less committed to democratic principles than Denmark or Sweden. The new Jewish nation-state law is neither undemocratic nor “racist.” It is a mild response to decades of harsh international attacks on Israel’s right to exist as the reestablished national homeland of the Jewish people.

The real racism is denying the Jewish people the same right of national self-determination that Arabs, Norwegians, Czechs and Japanese take for granted.