Israel's new Nation-State Law has been the source of both local and global condemnation. What's new, right?
It doesn't matter that the UN Partition Plan (Resolution 181) contains maps that clearly identified the then-future State of Israel as a "Jewish state" already back in 1947, or that that the Palestinian Authority passed its own parallel law over a decade ago.
For Israel to now enshrine in pseudo-constitutional law its identity as the Jewish state is clearly an act of discrimination against the nation's minority communities. At least, that's the way it's being seen by most in these communities, including the leadership of the traditional churches in the Holy Land.
A statement released by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem read:
"It is beyond conception that a Law with constitutional effect ignores an entire segment of the population, as if its members never existed. The law might not have practical effects, yet it sends an unequivocal signal to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, to the effect that in this country they are not at home."
The Latin Patriarch was not impressed by the fact that the full body of Israel's Basic Law (which fills the role of a constitution) still very much guarantees the equal rights of all Israeli citizens, regardless of race, sex or creed.
"The Christian citizens of Israel have the same concerns as any other non-Jewish communities. They call upon all citizens of the State of Israel who still believe in the basic concept of equality among citizens of the same nation, to voice their objection to this law and the dangers emanating thereof for the future of this country."
But other Arabic-speaking Christians, even those affiliated with the Catholic Church, insisted that the Patriarch did not speak on their behalf, and that Israel's Nation-State Law is a necessary move given the current instability in the Middle East.
When asked by Israel Today to comment on this topic, IDF Capt. (res.) Shadi Khalloul, head of the Aramean-Christian Movement in Israel and founder of the Christian-Jewish Pre-Army Preparatory Program, pointed to the example of neighboring Lebanon.
"The modern State of Lebanon was established by Maronite Christians as a shelter for them and other persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East," he recalled. "But the Muslim population of Lebanon was not a partner to this national vision, and due to differences of opinion, the Maronites were compelled to abandon their national ambitions. With no other choice, they agreed to the establishment of a state of all its citizens that, to their chagrin, joined the Arab League."
Khalloul noted that this compromise, this effort to be a state of all its citizens, ultimately resulted Lebanon's failure as a viable and unified nation.
"The Muslims did not at all see themselves as part of an independent Lebanese country, and instead nurtured their dream of uniting with their brothers in the surrounding region," he explained. "This brought about increased extremism in the Muslim Arab population in Lebanon, weakening state institutions and causing the Christians to emigrate from the land of their forefathers in which they had thrived for generations."
Khalloul believes Israel faces a similar threat.
"My support of the Nation-State Law is informed by the bitter Lebanese experience," he told us. "I believe that Jewish nationalism enshrined in Israeli law guarantees her continuing to be a democracy, and it also guarantees my existence and security as a member of a religious minority."
Khalloul, who encourages young local Christians to join the IDF and integrate with Israeli Jewish society, expounded: "A state of all its citizens (meaning: a state of all its national groups) is liable to duplicate the Lebanese tragedy here in Israel. Recent history suggests that there is reason to suspect that without the fortification in law of Jewish nationality, national and religious tensions would grow and intensify. Supported by elements outside the country, the Arab Muslims of Israel would seek to join with their Palestinian brothers, and after that to unite with the larger Arab world around."
Unlike most of Israel's detractors who refuse to see the situation in context, Khalloul pointed to the fact that "experience teaches us that the Jewish majority in Israel appreciates democracy and is faithful to its principles. This Basic Law, together with earlier Basic Laws, promises to maintain the democratic nature of Israel."
In conclusion, Khalloul stated that he and many Israeli Christians remain "hopeful that in the state of the Jewish People, which our forefathers supported, loyal minorities like ours will be able to maintain our own identity, culture and language." He said local Christians look forward to accomplishing this "peacefully and in brotherhood alongside the Jewish majority."