Why Modi must caution his friend 'Bibi'

Bharatiya Janata Party members are probably not the only Indians to look enviously at Benjamin Netanyahu who has just enacted a law reiterating that Israel is a monocultural country — of, for and by Jews only.


Not that anyone ever thought the Jewish homeland was a multicultural paradise for Muslims, Christians and Hindus. But despite being the region’s strongest military power, Israel’s ruling Likud coalition feels insecure enough to have to remind its Arabs — nearly 21 per cent of the population — that they are there on sufferance.


What the world — especially India with its heavy imports of Israeli arms — must ensure is that the new nation-state bill does not create a legal fig-leaf for Israel to gobble up the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. There will be no peace in West Asia without a sovereign Palestine. Among the blatant illegalities that the bill condones with the kind of mystic pseudo-spiritual claptrap at which Zionists are so good are the seizure of “whole and united” Jerusalem and Jewish colonies in conquered territories.


Specific United Nations Security Council resolutions outlaw both, but who cares? Might is right. An Israeli diplomat once boasted to me that Britain’s Balfour Declaration played no part in the creation of his country. “Israel exists because we fought for it!” he declared. Conquest knows no law. It is sanctified here by United States patronage.


Stomping trodden ground, the nation-state law exalts Jews and defines Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people”. But not all Israelis are applauding. While 62 members of the Knesset (parliament) voted in favour of the legislation, almost an equal number — 55 — opposed it. Two members abstained.


The storm of controversy also confirmed that some Israelis have not lost their sense of humour or humanity. Post newspaper has just sacked its courageous cartoonist Avi Katz for depicting the prime minister and his colleagues as characters from Animal Farm, George Orwell’s satire on authoritarianism. The caption repeats the famous Orwellian phrase, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. Israel’s Union of Journalists issued a statement  supporting the cartoonist who called the bill “shameful” on Facebook.


With such protests and the Knesset split, the bill can’t possibly be called a unanimous expression of the national will. It’s more likely a manoeuvre in domestic politics to strengthen orthodox forces. For instance, the stipulation that the state’s resources will be invested in preserving Israel’s affiliation to world Jewry, but not in Israel, assured the ultra-orthodox parties that the domestic reform and conservative communities would not be funded.


The final bill was a greatly modified version of the original draft. That was intended to significantly limit the Supreme Court’s discretion by having to give precedence to the state’s Jewish identity above its democratic polity where the two clashed. The most controversial clause which appeared to pave the way for the creation of communities segregated by ethnicity or religion was also removed.


Not surprisingly, Israeli Arabs, already marginalised in their own land, ignored these nuances and responded with high-pitched emotion to what amounts to a reiteration of Zionist triumphalism. Some publicly tore copies of the bill. Others complained that Israel had “declared it does not want us here” and that it had “passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens”. Two Knesset members, Ahmad Tibi and Aida Touma-Suleiman, yelled at Netanyahu, “You passed an apartheid law, a racist law”. Another Arab legislator, Zouheir Bahloul, quit the Knesset in protest.


A 23-year-old Druze army officer, Shady Zaidan, has been suspended for refusing to salute the flag or sing the national anthem. “I’m a citizen like everyone and gave my all to the state,” Zaidan wrote on Facebook. “And in the end, I wind up a second-class citizen”. At least, members of the tiny Druze minority are allowed to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. Arabs are not.


That may not matter more than the Arabic language being demoted from “official” to “special” status. Israel always has been, is and always will be a Jewish state for Jews. The danger lies in the new law’s clause that says, “the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”.


That means annexing the West Bank. Such international brigandage must not be allowed. It’s something Narendra Modi should warn his friend “Bibi” about, both privately and in public. 

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