From the September-October 2018 issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
Overnight on July 18-19 the Israeli Knesset passed, by a vote of 62-55, a new “Basic Law on Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People.” It created outrage among Arab and Druze citizens who see it as writing their second-class citizenship into law. It encourages the growth of illegal settlements on the West Bank and the continued dispossession of Palestinians.
The Right proposed this law in August, 2011, at the time of the Arab Spring-inspired occupation of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Thousands gathered, as in Occupy Wall Street, to challenge the government’s economic policies. They began to raise further issues of social justice, even beginning—just beginning—to reach out to Palestinians, which terrified the power structure.
The law aims to redefine the State along ever more reactionary lines. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has trafficked in reaction with or without legal cover, with its attacks on the Left, immigrants, and Palestinians.
A WORLDWIDE CRISIS
The passage of the law was met with cries of “Apartheid!” by Arab List Knesset members like Ayman Odeh. This is a reality. But it is also too simple. The truth is that we are seeing one aspect of a very new worldwide form of reaction.
It is no accident that the law was passed after President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and as the U.S. moves to undermine Palestinian self-determination. It is also no accident that as the law was being passed Prime Minister Netanyahu met with anti-Semitic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, proponent of “Christian Europe.”
This is not a measure that grows out of Jewish history. Rather, it is one more aspect of the cultivation of reactionary religion by state powers, as in today’s Catholic Poland and Hungary; in Erdogan’s Turkey, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia; in Modi’s Hindutva India; and in Putin’s Orthodox Russia.
WEAPONIZING OF RELIGION
We see Trump appoint himself the guardian of Jerusalem, and cultivate the Saudi monarchy. We see Putin pull the strings of the Russian Orthodox Church, as his bought “scholars” in Ichkeria redefine Islam for his use. We see the Catholic Right attempt to reassert control of the Vatican.
The potential for social disaster in this weaponizing of religion is apocalyptic. We have seen the horrors of ISIS already. Yet the closest that outfit ever got to controlling a symbolic religious center was its brief occupation of Dabiq.
State-sponsored religious bigotry aims at merciless conflict. It moves the tripwire for war from territorial boundaries to the depths of human consciousness. In Gaza, in particular, the Israeli state has treated the lives of Palestinians as worthless—witness the mass murders during the recent March of Return, the brutal bombing of civilian areas, and the inhuman occupation.
With Iran’s genocidal occupation of Syria, the threat of war with Israel—which also occupies Syrian territory—is a real possibility. Israel has bombed Iranian forces many times, and Iran has launched a few missiles in return. It is correct to call out the apartheid-like aspect of the Nation State Law, but equally important not to miss what is new.