Anthem for the Jewish Nation-State Law

צעדת דגליםGood things come in pairs, and the Jewish Nation-State Law already has an anthem. Music and lyrics: Amir Benayoun. (For a translation of the lyrics, see this page.) Since peace, as everyone knows, is Israel’s most fervent desire, it is fitting that the first words to this anthem are peace – shalom, salaam aleikum – and are spoken apparently by a man named Ahmed. According to the song, Ahmed embodies the Arabs who stick a knife in your back, for whom treason is second nature. This anthem is perfectly suited to the Jewish Nation-State Law, as it expresses the Israeli (Jewish) nation’s innermost feelings. It seems the existing national anthem – Hatikva (hope) is outdated and no longer reflects the new Israeliness which has formed during the 66 years of the state’s existence. The new anthem is straightforward and easy to understand – every Jew can learn it by heart. It is based on a primordial and very effective fear, and mobilizes the soul’s moral strength for a higher purpose: hate.

However, the anthem may well be shelved just like the Nation-State Law, because what’s the point of an anthem for a law if the law itself is shelved? And it’s a pity, because the law as approved by the government undoubtedly expresses Israeli reality, while the anthem expresses the hidden discourse of Israel’s popular talkback culture which shapes the political program of the government. The law and the anthem cause great discomfort among many of the great and good, because it exposes one of the state’s top secrets: the state suffers from chronic back pain. Though this secret is known to every Arab, it cannot be discussed in public lest it be perceived as prejudice or – god forbid – racism. If Israel had no such back pain, it’s likely that peace would have been achieved a long time ago, since Ahmed would not have been able to “shoot from behind,” to quote the final line of the new anthem. The state’s exposed back prevents peace from breaking out, and justifies the Occupation as well as the Nation-State Law.

The ultimate bluff: “Jewish and democratic”

The law is likely to be shelved because it exposes the bluff known as “Jewish and democratic,” and confirms the slanderous claim that there is an internal contradiction between the state’s Jewish character and the democracy it aspires to maintain. The definition of the state as Jewish automatically negates the idea of a “state of all its citizens.” Non-Jews cannot feel they belong and are in fact excluded: they generally do not serve in the army, do not sing Hatikva (the existing anthem), and are citizens of a state that refuses to acknowledge their collective rights. However, the Israeli establishment – judges, public figures, intellectuals and politicians – all hold on to this bluff because it enables them to wrap themselves in the cloak of democracy while the state consistently discriminates against its Arab citizens (even if this institutional discrimination is sometimes hidden or elusive).

It is interesting that all those who oppose the law, from the Revisionist (rightwing) President Reuven Rivlin (who canceled a performance of Benayoun in the presidency house, because of his controversial song) to the Zionist Left of Meretz, make do with fighting the law but fail to put forward any alternative law. They clutch the Declaration of Independence as the beacon of light – the same declaration that led to the current discriminatory regime, which did not just exclude Israel’s Arab citizens but enabled the strange coexistence with them alongside the anti-democratic Occupation regime which has been in existence since 1967.

Those who initiated the law apparently understand something that those who oppose it ignore: the lack of clarity in Israel’s Declaration of Independence is threatening the Jewish character of the state. In 1948 only some 150,000 Palestinian Arabs remained within the new state’s borders, and they lived under a military administration until 1966, which prevented the development of an Arab collective. Today, when this population numbers some one million and a wide network of civil-society institutions has developed, the foundations have been laid for a civil struggle for equality based on the principle of democracy.

In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to solve a problem before it breaks out. The demands of Israel’s Arab citizens regarding discrimination in land allocation, lack of acceptance to “Jewish” towns, and unequal resource distribution for education and local authorities (some of which have reached the High Court) have created legal foundations which could potentially strengthen the state’s democratic character, “normalizing” the state as an entity which serves all citizens equally, regardless of race or religion. The Nation-State Law is intended to halt this trend and turn back time: institutional discrimination against Arabs must continue, and the Nation-State Law will enable this status quo to remain.

Those who oppose the law, from both the Left and the Right, are not against the status quo, they merely want to continue to benefit from the state’s democratic appearance. The New York Times (in an editorial) and the Anti-Defamation League both oppose the law because it reveals the state’s racist character. Moreover, international institutions, particularly the OECD, are urging Israel to adopt a policy of equality towards its Arab citizens, and they use purely economic arguments, especially participation in the labor force and the reduction of socioeconomic disparities. In other words, there is an increasing understanding that the integration of the state’s Arab citizens is an “objective” need. Thus democracy and equality must be expanded to the detriment of the state’s Jewish character and the privileges enjoyed by its Jewish citizens.

The new separation fence

In light of this reality, the political right has come up with endless ideas for thwarting the historical process: praying at the Temple Mount, revoking the citizenship of East Jerusalem residents, demolishing houses, imprisoning children for years for throwing stones, the Flag Law, the Nakba Law, the Loyalty Law, the Anthem Law and now the Nation-State Law. All these initiatives create a new separation fence whose purpose is to halt the current of history.

And what is the opposition doing? The opposition is stammering and feeble, because deep inside it too believes Ahmed is the eternal enemy. Just a few months ago the Left joined the Right and together they marched off to raze the Gaza Strip: 20,000 homes destroyed and some 100,000 people left homeless. Because it’s not just the Right which fears Ahmed; the Left is full partner to this primordial fear. Racism creeps ever onwards, breaking out in an anthem. The fear and hate on the Jewish side have engendered fear and hate on the other side, and in the chasm created between them the racist extremists of both sides are having a ball. The fundamentalist Jewish Right nourishes the fundamentalist Arab Right, and hate blinds us all as we rush toward the abyss.

The only way to fight this religious fundamentalism, which has taken over huge swathes of both Jewish and Arab society, is to unite all democratic forces round a simple agenda: equality for all citizens and uncompromising struggle against the Occupation. The fall of this Nation-State Law will indicate its moral weakness and the Right’s inability to put forward a solution. It will also show that the Right is strong only because of the weakness of the Left and the weakness of the democratic forces in Arab society. If such unity is not achieved, ISIS will enter Arab society and Kahanism will flourish on the Israeli side. The latter already has both an anthem and a government. An Arab-Jewish front must be formed with the sole aim of creating a democratic regime of full equality. If this does not happen, though the Nation-State Law may fail today, it will reappear tomorrow in a more extreme form.

– Translated from the Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger

About Yacov Ben Efrat