It was not a matter of being forgetful

It was not a matter of being forgetful

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Israel at 70 celebrations in Tel Aviv. Getty Images
Israel at 70 celebrations in Tel Aviv. Getty Images

Israel’s new nation-state law represents numerous challenges to what a democracy should stand for. There are all sorts of issues which it raises, and which have been extensively discussed. It appears, however, that there was inadequate consultation or consideration given to how Israel’s Druze community would respond to the new law. Over the past weeks fissures have opened up between the Jewish majority and Israel’s Druze minority.  The Druze leaders potentially threaten this new law in ways which are even more significant challenges to the Israeli Government than those presented by Israeli Arabs—Muslim or Christian–because Druze have are considered full citizens in Israel.

Druze communities adopt the nationality and cultural norms—but not the faith—of whichever country in which they reside. The Druze have no homeland of their own, so they modify their sense of nationhood and nationality based on where they reside. They view themselves as citizens of that country; Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or Israel. In the case of the Israeli Government, there are Druze citizens in the Knesset, they serve throughout the Government, and, most importantly, in the Israel military—with honor and great distinction.

It is precisely in response to outcry from Druze officers and soldiers to the new law, that many Israeli lawmakers as well as current and former IDF officers and commanders have rallied to condemn this new nation-state law.  These leaders recognize the contributions and full participation by the Druze citizens in the affairs of the country.

While this response to the Druze comm unity is totally appropriate, there is little justification that matters should ever have come to this point. To suggest that lawmakers neglected to consider the effect that this law would have on the Druze community may be true, but it is only part of the problem.

The law singles out Jews for full rights and all others have a secondary status. The law comes from politicians who argue that only Jews should be full-fledged citizens of Israel. The State of Israel is a Jewish State and anyone who is not Jewish has a lesser legal status. (The only thing that was not—yet—included in this law was that all the Jewish citizens had to be Orthodox; although it comes close to suggesting that this ought to be the case.) The law does not promote democracy or suggest that all people who obey the law in Israel have equal rights under the law.

This law had been germinating for a long time. Its immersion was not a surprise. What is so troublesome is how weak the outcry has been from critical political circles in Israel. It is not the “sudden” awareness by the Government of unfair treatment in the law toward Druze which is so revealing; rather it was the Government leaders’ willingness to modify the country’s Basic Law in a way which was never the intent of the founders who envisioned Israel as a Jewish Democratic State.

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