Nation State of the Jewish People - except in a pandemic

Ben Gurion Airport in the coronavirus pandemic  credit: Cadya Levy

Allowing citizens to return to Israel while refusing entry to Diaspora Jews violates Israel's most recent Basic Law.

Post-Zionist is a term often used to criticize those who reject the founding and central ethos of the State of Israel as a Jewish state or the state of the Jews. From a post-Zionist perspective, Israel is the state of all its citizens with no particular or special relationship between the state and those Jews who live outside of it. All of Israel’s governments, certainly the right-center Netanyahu led coalitions of the twelve years, would strenuously object to being labeled post-Zionist.

The aspirational commitment of Netanyahu’s governments to the rejection of the post-Zionist narrative is even clearer with the passing of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People in 2018 ranks as one of the most significant and impactful domestic accomplishments of the Netanyahu led governments in Israel over the last decade. The law is not without its critics, and its ratification sparked a still simmering public debate over the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.

Regardless of the divergence of views about the necessity of this Basic Law, it clearly determines that Israel is not just as the home of its citizens, but is also the nation state of the Jewish people (paragraph 1), and that by law it is invested in ensuring the continued connection between the state and the Jewish People in the Diaspora (paragraph 6). The special relationship between the State of Israel and the Jewish people was highlighted in the Declaration of Independence and has long lain at the heart of the Zionist movement. The 2018 Basic Law anchors this value in a binding statute for Israeli policy.

And yet, despite the rhetorical commitment to the law’s key principles, and the role it often plays as a litmus test of Israeli patriotism, particularly in the nationalist camp, it has been essentially ignored and abandoned by policy makers. The recent set of decisions by the Israeli government to limit entry to Israel only to returning Israeli citizens (first through the flawed mechanism of the exemption committee and then through numerical quotas and the requirement of self-quarantine) draw a clear line in the sand between Israeli citizens and Diaspora Jews, despite Israel’s standing as the Nation State of the Jewish People. In my opinion, this post-Zionist policy is a clear violation of one of our most fundamental legal obligations and a sharp departure from one of the consensual values of the entire Zionist enterprise.

Clearly, the Israeli government, in the light of a devastating public health crisis, has the legal and moral authority to protect public safety by curtailing completely, or limiting significantly, entry into the country for the period of time it believes is necessary. There is a legitimate public debate about the length of such restrictions and the proper balance between their benefit and the damaging impact on the Israeli economy and quality of life. In my view however, given the founding values of this country and the legal status as determined by the Nationality Basic Law, it is not legitimate to distinguish between Israeli citizens and Diaspora Jews in terms of entrance into the country.

Covid-19 does not distinguish between an Israeli returning from abroad and a Diaspora Jew arriving in Israel. The danger of importing new variants of the virus is equivalent in each case. Israel’s special standing as the Nation State of the Jewish People obligates its policy makers to avoid such a distinction as well. Entry into Israel needs to be limited and regulated as long as public health needs so require. Such limits and regulations need to take into account not just the basic right of Israeli citizens to enter the country, but the equally basic right of Diaspora Jews to do so as well. Any other approach violates not just the basic laws of the country but our core values as well.

The writer is CEO of Onward Israel.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 11, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Ben Gurion Airport in the coronavirus pandemic  credit: Cadya Levy
Ben Gurion Airport in the coronavirus pandemic credit: Cadya Levy
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