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Democracy's Creative Tensions? Take That Back!

Democracy's Creative Tensions? Take That Back!

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Our old friend Ofer Shelah, former Maariv military and sports reporter, former Forward Israel correspondent and currently Yesh Atid Knesset caucus whip, has come out against the phenomenon of “nationality laws” that seek to define the relationship between Israel’s Jewish and democratic qualities or assign preferential standing in law to one over the other (usually favoring the Jewish side).

As Shelah wrote on his Facebook page on Friday, the law is superfluous (מיותר), and laws that are superfluous are laws that shouldn’t be enacted.

Or, as the Jerusalem Post summed it up, in a Saturday news article by Knesset correspondent Lahav Harkov, “Shelah: ‘Jewish and democratic state’ an oxymoron.” Harkov writes:

Get it? Harkov takes Ofer’s celebration of the messy, vibrant experiment that is Israeli democracy, with all its creative tensions (its “fascinating duality” and its brightest light shining forth from the gray areas), and turns it into an attack on Israel and Zionism. Apparently notions like living with complexity, walking narrow lines and finding light in the gray interstitial areas are too complicated for some folks.

The nationality law began as an unsuccessful bill submitted in the last Knesset by former Kadima lawmaker Avi Dichter. It would have ended the status of Arabic as Israel’s second official language and, in cases where Israel’s Jewish and democratic qualities came into legal conflict, given primacy to the Jewish element. Shelah writes that it would enshrine in law “the most damaging thing in current Israeli discourse — the feeling of victimhood — which turns our justice from something natural, which anyone can sense without a need for reinforcement or explanation, into a pathetic farce of counterfeit patriotism.”

Two alternative versions were submitted to the current Knesset, one by Yariv Levin of Likud and Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home, the other by Ruth Calderon of Shelah’s Yesh Atid. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni vetoed both versions as contradicting the guarantees in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Earlier this month Livni appointed liberal constitutional scholar Ruth Gavizon to draft a moderate version that would be in conformity with the declaration.

Shelah writes, “My colleague Ruth Calderon is trying to draft an alternative bill that would be based on the text and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. She’s doing it with wisdom, modesty and openness, as is her habit.” Nonetheless, he sees two problems in the effort: first, that he regards any nationality law as unnecessary, and second, that he thinks the topic is best left in its current creative ambiguity (as described above).

Or, as the Post’s Harkov puts it:

Oxymoron? I don’t know about the “oxy” part, but…

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

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Democracy's Creative Tensions? Take That Back!

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