High Words, Low Realities
by Alexander Cockburn
June 12th, 2009
“Among some Muslims,” Obama declared in Cairo, “there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld … Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.” This came at the end of a week in which the Israeli Knesset voted by a large majority (47 to 34) for a law that threatens imprisonment for anyone who dares to deny that Israel is a Jewish state.
The private member’s bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev of the “Jewish Home” party, stipulates one year in prison to anyone who publishes “a call that negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.” “One can foresee the next steps,” wrote Uri Avnery, peace activist and former Knesset member. “A million and a half Arab citizens cannot be expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. They want it to be ‘a state of all its citizens’—Jews, Arabs and others. They also claim with reason that Israel discriminates against them, and therefore is not really democratic. And, in addition, there are also Jews who do not want Israel to be defined as a Jewish State in which non-Jews have the status, at best, of tolerated outsiders.”
The bill now goes to the Legal Committee of the Knesset. Avnery says that within a few weeks or months it will be the law of the land.
The bill, as Avnery notes, does not single out Arabs explicitly—”even if this is its clear intention, and all those who voted for it understood this. It also prohibits Jews from advocating a change in the state’s definition, or the creation of a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine or spreading any other such unconventional ideas.” Avnery concludes, “One can only imagine what would happen in the US if a senator proposed a law to imprison anyone who suggests an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.”