Imagine your governing coalition insisting that the Word of God – the Bible – and Christian values should be taken seriously in politics. A law should be enshrined that benefits the Bible and the Christian faith in your country. Of course, those of other faiths will feel disadvantaged, but that is exactly what the current government intends to do by establishing Zionism and the Torah as the highest values in politics. The people of Israel have lived with this tension since the founding of their state, and to be honest, in many cases it is not easy. Reading the Bible and believing is one thing, but putting the Bible into practice in politics is something else.
“This is transforming Israel from a Zionist state into a Jewish religious state. A state-changing decision, pushing Israel back into the Kingdom of Judah during the Second Temple period.” With these words, Prof. Izhar Oplatka, a senior educational policy expert at Tel Aviv University, described the new government proposal. Israel’s modern political developments are always compared in biblical retrospect. The Kingdom of Judah, including Benjamin, was religious and Orthodox, while the other ten tribes in the Kingdom of Israel were “secular,” similar to today. In this new legislative proposal, the Orthodox coalition partners insist on the official recognition of the “Torah as the highest moral standard.”
The proposal states:
“The values of Zionism as expressed in the Basic Law – nation-state of the Jewish people – will become the guiding values in determining public policy, domestic and foreign policy, legislation and action of the government and all of their units and institutions.”
To this definition, the Orthodox ministers said stop. They expressed concern that their voters, the vast majority of whom do not serve in the military and do not identify themselves as Zionists, would be discriminated against. For this reason, in addition to Zionism as the guiding moral principle, the Torah, the Word of God, must also be included.
The government is expected to approve the proposed legislation that would establish the values of Zionism and the study of the Torah as the supreme values in Israeli society. This obliges the government to make decisions along these lines. Among other things, the law will give young Israelis who complete their army service and Orthodox yeshiva students priority over other citizens in buying land and building in order to kick-start Jewish settlement in the Negev and Galilee.
The ultimate goal of the Zionist idea was the homecoming of Jews from all over the world to the biblical land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Zionism refers to Zion as the name for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Theodor Herzl was the founder of political Zionism, which emerged as a result of rising antisemitism in Europe in the 19th century. But Jews have always returned to Zion throughout biblical history, so Zionism is actually nothing new. From the perspective of foreign peoples, Zionism is sometimes viewed as racist, and they are partly right, but the biblical promise is responsible for that. Zionism and Torah basically belong together and that is exactly what the current government wants to anchor in a new law, thus setting a new bar in Israel’s politics.
In doing so, the government basically wants to put the content of the so-called “Nation-State Law” of June 2018 into practice. A law that was highly controversial in Israel as well as in the international context, even though it really doesn’t alter all that much regarding daily life in Israel. Its proponents emphasize that it only expresses realities. Critics say the law discriminates against minorities and ignores the principle of equality between Jews and non-Jews. A debate that reveals the social tension between Jewish and democratic identity in Israel. Two worldviews that don’t always work together in an Israeli context. Because of this, some people fear a split, as happened in the biblical days of the kings of Israel.
Left-wing movements see this as a problem. “If the government approves this proposal, discrimination against Arab society will become a guiding principle for the government, favoring Jewish citizens and discriminating against Arab citizens.” But isn’t the Bible saying that this land was promised to the people of Israel? If the Torah is recognized as the highest moral standard in Israel’s politics, then that is biblically correct. And this is being criticized today by some. Of course, opposition leader Yair Lapid also condemned the proposal, forgetting perhaps what he said to Israeli media last year when he was leading the government: “I have no problem learning the Torah. In my eyes, the Torah is of great value to the people of Israel.”
Assistant Attorney General Gil Limon said he opposed the law. “The government cannot decide that one value is superior to other values,” he said. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir responded: “It’s a good thing you weren’t here in the days of the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. Anyone who opposes our proposal on behalf of the Israeli soldiers makes themselves an opponent of Zionism.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored that this draft law will help remove obstacles created by the Israel Land Authority (ILA). “This is a matter of politics and I want to control politics,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting. “If we need to change the laws, we will.” Netanyahu said the Attorney General’s Office wants a discussion, but “he wants to set the policy.” This includes Zionism and the Bible, because in Israel the Bible determines politics one way or the other.
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