What’s Next after the Nation-State Law?

The last couple of weeks have been tough for democracy in Israel. The Knesset passed the Nation-State Law, a slap in the face to non-Jewish Israelis (click here for an overview of the Bill), rejected an amendment to the Surrogacy Law that would have allowed surrogacy for same-sex couples, and passed the so-called “Breaking the Silence Law,” which would keep human rights organisations from speaking in public schools. And if that wasn’t enough, Israeli police staged a pre-dawn raid on the home of a Conservative rabbi in Haifa, detaining and questioning him about his role in performing a non-Orthodox wedding.

In fact, it has been so bad that criticism has poured in, even from sources usually disinclined to publicly chastise Israel. The Board of Deputies of British Jews expressed their concern on the Nation-State Law by stating:

‘Among Israel’s great strengths are its democracy and diversity…All people should be valued and Israel’s Arab and other minority populations should be a treasured part of society. The lesson of Jewish history is that societies are stronger when minorities are affirmed, and they decay when minorities are degraded.’

We were gratified to see that the response reflects the concerns of many in our community. I’m glad that a growing number of people who care deeply about Israel are waking up to the real and present danger posed by those who would have Israel embrace and enshrine tribalism, xenophobia, and illiberalism.

The passing of the Nation-State Law was of course challenging for our supporters, but for us it wasn’t a total surprise. We have been worried about Israel’s direction as a democratic state for some time now. We’ve watched as an ultra-nationalist ruling coalition has pursued policies and legislation aimed at remaking Israel into a country many of us – Israelis and supporters of Israel around the world alike – would no longer recognise as the country described in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. What’s more, we’ve been working hard supporting those Israelis trying to change that direction, to move their country back towards liberal democracy, pluralism, and shared society.

To those who are new to this fight, and to all of us, I say: we need you. It’s not too late., but the time for hand-wringing, frustration, and despair is certainly over. It is not enough. Resisting neo-authoritarianism in Israel and around the world is the great task of our time. And make no mistake: nobody is riding to our rescue. We are going to have to do the hard work ourselves.

But the good news is, we are not alone. In Israel, the Surrogacy Law I described above triggered the largest mass demonstrations in Israel in years. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in defence of the LGBTQ+ community. It was, of course, only a start. But it was also a powerful reminder that the liberal democratic soul of Israel is alive. We are also seeing the dangers and negative impact of the Nation-State Law being challenged, with criticism coming from many parts of Israel society. More positively, thousands of Israelis took part in an Arabic lesson in the centre of Tel Aviv on Monday evening organised by our grantees.

The Israelis who still believe in the Jewish and democratic values that animate Israel’s founding vision need our support, our encouragement, and our passionate engagement as they work to take back their country. In the difficult days ahead, we will continue to support them, and, just as importantly, to let them know that they are not alone.

We are standing together, shoulder to shoulder.

Adam Ognall

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July 2018