JERUSALEM — When Israel was founded nearly seven decades ago, its Declaration of Independence clearly defined the new nation as a Jewish state.
But the document also enshrined democracy as a core principle, ensuring “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”
Now Israelis and Jews abroad are roiled by debate over whether Israel can continue to be both a Jewish homeland and the lone democracy in a region torn apart by ethnic and religious strife.
Israel’s Parliament was dissolved on Monday in part over legislation proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ultranationalist politicians that some Israelis fear would elevate the state’s Jewishness above its democratic character, exposing the inherent tension in the nation’s core principles with a law that critics say would subject a fifth of its citizens to permanent second-class status.
After a tumultuous year of failed peace talks with the Palestinians, a grueling war with militants in the Gaza Strip, continuing terrorist attacks and swelling criticism in Europe and the United States, Israel, still an adolescent nation, is going through something of an identity crisis.
“We believe this is the essence of what this state is about — real equality and having Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people — but more and more Israelis are asking themselves whether this combination is really an option,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “We have constitutional principles, but we don’t have a constitution, so the basic character of the state is not really secured.”
Drafts of the so-called nationality bills would remove Arabic as an official language alongside Hebrew, increase the influence of Jewish law, reduce the power of the Supreme Court, and entrench the automatic citizenship of Jews worldwide and Jewish symbols of the state. The proposals, put off until the outcome of the parliamentary elections next year, do not mention the word “equality” or provide rights for non-Jews, though they would preserve voting rights for all citizens.
As the new legislation emphasizes, Israel would aspire to be not an Israeli homeland but one for all Jews, which Palestinian citizens find particularly offensive because their relatives are refugees who fled or were expelled in 1948. Few would dispute that, say, France can be both a French homeland and a democracy with non-French citizens, but Israel is a different case, not least because its Arab and Druse minorities are indigenous, not immigrant.
Israelis from across the political spectrum and leaders of the Jewish diaspora have denounced the proposals as superfluous, redundant, embarrassing, dangerous and ill timed. Palestinians within Israel and outside it are also virulently opposed, but they say it unmasks what they call a facade of a democracy that has long been discriminatory.
“They have the right of self-determination, but this self-determination has to be formulated in a very creative way,” said Amal Jamal, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University. “You cannot put it in a way that makes equality impossible and makes me strange in my own home, exiles me in my own house. This is very, very problematic, and that’s the sense, that’s the feeling.”
With prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a nadir, some analysts say the revival of the nationality bills is fueled by fears of a single entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea where Jews would not be a clear majority.
In an increasingly hostile environment, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, has reiterated his call for a transfer of Arab-Israeli towns to a future Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has raised the possibility of revoking citizenship or residency rights of relatives of people who attack Jews or anyone who expresses support for the attackers.
Hundreds of left-leaning Israeli Jews protested the proposed legislation outside the prime minister’s residence last weekend. Thousands of Palestinians overlaid their Facebook profile photos with a “Class B Citizen” stamp that one organizer of the campaign likened to the yellow stars European Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
Critics include Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlin, who opposes a Palestinian state but has positioned himself as a champion of the state’s Arab citizens. “Does this bill not in fact play into the hands of those who seek to slander us?” Mr. Rivlin asked in a recent speech.
There has been an outpouring of outrage from American Jews reflecting alienation from Israel’s political and religious shift rightward.
“There was something about this bill that really pushed people’s buttons,” said Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University historian of the Holocaust, whose op-ed against the law in The Wall Street Journal last week was her first public criticism of Israel.
“I think it’s a drip-drip; I think it’s cumulative,” she said. “If it had strategic value I would say what the hell, but it seems to be a purely political thing which serves no purpose except sort of a child on the playground saying, ‘Ha ha ha ha, this is who we are.’ ”
Proponents of the legislation argue that it is a necessary counterbalance to existing laws promoting equality. Mr. Netanyahu also insisted on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people during the American-brokered negotiations this spring, and he has repeated in recent days that this is essential to any peace deal.
Mr. Netanyahu and other politicians routinely speak of themselves as the leaders of the Jewish people, not some melting-pot Israeli mixture. The flag bears the Star of David, and the national anthem describes the “yearning of the Jewish soul” to be “a free nation in our land,” a conundrum for Palestinian citizens highlighted in 2012 when an Arab justice on the Supreme Court — for many a symbol of the democracy’s success — declined to sing it at a public ceremony.
That same court last year rejected an appeal by 21 citizens to be identified in the national registry as “Israeli” rather than by religion or ethnicity, saying that doing so would have “weighty implications” and could endanger the state’s founding principles.
Democracy Institute surveys show waning support among Israeli Arabs for the state defining itself as both Jewish and democratic, from two-thirds in 2003 to less than half in 2012.
Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Arab Association for Human Rights, and other advocates attribute this to rising discrimination. They point to laws that allow committees to screen potential residents of small communities and that prohibit funding for groups that commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe, as Palestinians call their expulsion as Israel was established.
Because Arabs are generally exempt from military service, they are also disadvantaged by programs favoring veterans for housing, jobs, bank loans and scholarships; the Druse, who do serve in the army and have been among those killed in the recent attacks, also have condemned the new legislation.
Said Abu Shakra, who runs an art gallery in Umm al Fahm, said Arab-Israeli institutions like his receive just 2 percent of the nation’s cultural funding. Professor Jamal said the Arab city of Nazareth has twice the population but 5 percent of the land of its neighbor, predominantly Jewish Upper Nazareth, where there are many more public parks and services.
Hanin Majadli, who helped promote the “Class B Citizen” Facebook campaign, said she was rejected for a Tel Aviv apartment when the landlord found out she was not Jewish. Ayman Siseck, a fiction writer, said he was detained for two hours at the airport this year while traveling with a group of Israeli authors to a literary convention in Germany.
“Maybe I have been kidding myself about this place,” said Mr. Siseck, 30, who writes in Hebrew, which he calls his “stepmother tongue.”
“I was born here, my family was born here in Jaffa, many generations of my family, and suddenly the prime minister goes on television and says, ‘This is not your country; this is the country of the Jewish people,’ ” Mr. Siseck said. “What does this mean for me? I’m not of the Jewish people. You can’t say the rights of every citizen will be maintained if you’re saying that these rights are secondary to national identity. There’s a logical failure here.”
Ruth Gavison, a law professor at Hebrew University who spent a year studying the issue for the justice minister whom Mr. Netanyahu ousted last week as he called for early elections, recommended that no legislation be enacted.
“The power” of Israel’s founding vision “lies in its vagueness,” she wrote in a paper submitted last month. “A Jewish nation-state law may upset the balance between elements crucial for maintaining the vision as a whole.”
Segun tomado de, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/world/middleeast/israels-nationality-bill-stirs-debate-over-religious-and-democratic-identity.html?emc=edit_tnt_20141209&nlid=64717990&tntemail0=y&_r=0 el martes, 9 de dic. de 2014