For quite some time the Israeli Government has been discussing introducing a bill which would make Israel formally a Jewish State. While it has some way to go as yet, it has been in the news today here in Israel/Palestine as it has been voted for in the Kennesset by a narrow majority. There are a number of implications of the bill, Arabic would no longer be the second language of Israel, Jewish Holidays would become Israeli Holidays (at present those not wanting to celebrate the holiday for whatever reasons, are usually able to work, this would no longer be the case). More widely and less well defined – though probably more worrying is that all those who are not religious Jews would in various ways be disadvantaged, this would apply to the two million “Israeli Arabs” – as Palestinians citizens of the State of Israel are often called – as well as secular, often more left wing Israelis. Perhaps even more concerning is that the West Bank Settlements are refered to as “developments” and the act assumes an annexing of the West Bank – or at least some part of it (I am not clear on precisely how this would work, but it is clearly not envisaging a “Two State Solution).
From time to time I like to remind myself of the Israeli Declaration of Indipendence. It is increasingly difficult to see how the present Government of Israel can possibly say that it adheres to the principals of the Declaration. “It (The State of Israel) will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based upon freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
It is so sad that Israel – that could have been a means for the enrichment of the whole Middle East has now for at least twenty years headed in a direction that leaves its Israeli Arabs as second class citizens, inspires other religions of the area to see Judaism as a threat to them, and destabilises the whole region of the Middle East. Of course Israel isn’t solely to blame, in part they have reacted to others, who then have reacted to them. We are in an increasingly vicious circle.
Elias Shacour, pictured above is an Israeli Arab, has lived in Israel ever since the creation of the State and has dedicated his life to harmony between Jews and Arabs. His book “Blood Brothers” is a great read. I was with him recently and he described sadly, how much he is now a second class citizen of the country he calls home. This bill, and the pressure from the Israeli right to go further and further in this direction he sees as a very sad indication of where the future at present seems to lie.
At its heart the problem lies thousands of miles away in the White House. The pressures have been here for years, but previous inhabitants of the White House have all placed a restraining hand upon the Israeli Governments that have wanted to make Israel an exclusively Jewish State, where other citizens are marginalised. President Trump has given a green light to the worst excesses taking place here, the killing of unarmed protesters, the speeding up of the expansion of settlements, the marginalising of Palestinians in Israel and the dehumanising of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
In articles, in this blog and in personal discussions I have argued before that religious states have no place in the twenty first century. For many years it has been clear that Muslim states discriminate against those who are not Muslim. Often they discriminate against people who from a different part of Islam. One of the major issues I found on my visit to Syria last autumn – was the question of the future of the Christian minority in Syria. Only the Assad regime shows any willingness to defend the Christians there. One of the major losers in Iraq after the fall of Salam Hussain was the Christian Community. I am equally opposed to a Jewish State as to an Islamic one. Having returned from Syria where I saw Christian icons defaced by ISIS I went a week later to Bet Jamal, near Bet Shemesh. There I saw stain glass windows in St Stephen’s Church, defaced in just the way ISIS had done to icons in Syria, but there is was extremist ultra Orthodox Jews who had caused the damage.