Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Deliberately missing the point

A little over a week ago in a post about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - or rather their absence - I referred to a new proposal from the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change the law related to becoming a citizen so as to require all non-Jewish candidates for Israeli citizenship to pledge allegiance to the country specifically as a "Jewish and democratic" state.

Thousands protested the bill and Arab members of the Knesset denounced it as racist and as undermining the rights of Israel's minority Arabs.

So now Netanyahu has taken the painfully obvious step of asking that the bill be amended so that all immigrants, including Jews, would have to swear the same oath.

Yeah, well.... While that change may address some legalistic concerns it does not address the central issue: the requirement for non-Jews to swear allegiance to Israel as a specifically, officially, Jewish state, in effect declaring themselves outsiders in their own chosen home.

As I also noted at the same time last week, there is an inherent tension between being both a "Jewish" state and a "democratic" state. You cannot truly be both because the demands of the former for adherence to Biblical law and principles will inevitably come into conflict with the requirements of the latter for open debate and majority rule. The proposed change does not address that conflict and does nothing to resolve it.

In other word, it misses the real point - I believe deliberately.

Footnote: Again as noted before, this tension does not exist only in the case of Judaism. Turkey faces some of the same problems and conflicts in trying to be both Muslim and democratic. The only way to minimize that conflict is to have a nation that is so overwhelmingly of one religion (and even of one school within that religion) that the question just doesn't arise.

Even that may not be enough: Ireland is not officially a Catholic country, but it is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Despite that, it has still had real political conflicts in areas where the law has sought to follow Catholic teachings, such as marriage, divorce, birth control, and abortion.

But leave that aside because that sort of homogeneity does not exist in Israel. So unless it is prepared to forcibly expel its Arab residents and citizens (which some right wing parties do espouse) that conflict will persist.

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