The State of Israel is born again: 9 things to know for July 19
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The State of Israel is born again: 9 things to know for July 19

The nation-state bill, a Conservative rabbi being detained, Viktor Orban’s arrival and Facebook defending Holocaust denial are all condemned; the government doesn’t seem to care

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi (CR) at the Knesset plenum on July 18, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi (CR) at the Knesset plenum on July 18, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )

1. Like a thief in the night, the contentious Jewish nation-state bill passed into the lawbooks at about 3 a.m. Thursday morning, but there was nothing sneaky about it, with condemnation spewing forth like a volcano of indignation.

  • By 3:30 a.m. this editor had received several press statements slamming the legislation, including from Israeli groups and the US Reform Movement.
  • But that was nothing compared to the pre-dawn storm in the actual Knesset plenum, where Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka ripped a printed text of the bill to shreds from the podium and MK Ahmad Tibi declared “the death of democracy.”
  • “Applause and cries of ‘apartheid,’” reads the top headline on the Ynet news site.
  • In a possible sign that everything that could be said about the bill has already been said in the lead-up — or possibly just due to the late hour of its passage — analyses, commentaries and opinion pieces are actually hard to come by, overshadowed by the actual news.

2. The morning has brought fresh voices criticizing the passage of the law, which enshrines in law Israel’s character as a Jewish state and is seen by critics as a form of Jewish supremacy.

  • It has also brought this doozy of a picture of Likud rascal Oren Hazan gathering fellow lawmakers who supported the measure for a selfie, his raised shirt completing the ridiculous effect. The picture of the selfie-taking, captured by Haaretz’s Olivier Fattousi and Yedioth’s Amitai Shaavi, quickly becomes the focus of criticism for the bill as a whole.
  • “A non-national, non socio-civil, non modern-state law. These are its fathers and this is how this moment will be remembered,” historian Fania Oz Salzberger writes.
  • “I don’t know how to tell you this, but this is how all Israelis look,” says al-Masdar editor Shimrit Meir.
  • “It’s reminiscent of the cradle of democracy in Greece,” writes a sarcastic Ido Pollak, former head of Haaretz business supplement TheMarker.
  • “This is the coalition keeping it nationalist. To be cherished,” quips the ever-quotable Tibi.

3. Some time between taking selfies and voting, Benjamin Netanyahu also found time to get up and praise the bill.

  • “We’ve enshrined in stone our language, our anthem and our flag,” reads the main headline of Israel Hayom, quoting Netanyahu. The pro-government tabloid’s news story ignores almost all criticism of the bill aside from mentioning a walkout by opposition MKs when Netanyahu spoke.
  • Netanyahu and others, including Likud’s Amir Ohana, presented the law as the defining moment of the State of Israel, which is what many quote in their own headlines, from Walla to the BBC.

4. Though technically a domestic matter, the law is also roundly condemned by Palestinians and others.

  • Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is quoted by AFP calling it a “dangerous and racist law” that “officially legalizes apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system.”
  • The bill’s passage makes top news in al Jazeera’s English edition, noting in its lead that the bill has “[provoked] fears it will lead to blatant discrimination against its Palestinian citizens.”
  • The satellite channel quotes one man in the northern town of Maalot Tarshiha (a municipality created by linking a Jewish and an Arab town), who says the lawmakers are “planting the seeds to create an apartheid state.”
  • “The purpose of this law is discrimination. They want to get rid of the Arabs totally,” says another man from a nearby Druze village.
  • The Los Angeles Times includes an exchange that might have seemed sarcastic and snarky if not so serious: “‘You passed an apartheid law, a racist law!’ shouted Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Arab Joint List. ‘Why are you afraid of the Arabic language?’ Netanyahu replied: ‘How dare you talk this way about the only democracy in the Middle East?’”

5. There’s likely no connection, but within two hours of the bill passing, a Conservative rabbi was being woken up by police knocking on his door, hauling him in for questioning for performing unsanctioned marriages.

  • In a Facebook post about the incident, Rabbi Dov “Dubi” Haiyun writes that “Iran is already here,” and the outrage over the incident is swift and furious, with the news quickly overtaking the passage of the nation-state bill for top spot in many Israeli news sites.
  • The rabbi tells Army Radio that after dragging him down to the station, police didn’t even question him, but made him promise to come back for a grilling next week. (Haaretz reports that police now say he does not need to come back.)
  • He tells Hadashot news of his anger at being forced to pray morning services at the station and says he’s already gotten calls of support from angry Americans who see it as a slap in the face of Diaspora Jewry.
  • “I am a religious man and not beholden to anyone but God. If the police want to stop me I’m the first that will march to jail. Israel is the only state that criminalizes Judaism,” he says.
  • On Twitter, former prime minister Ehud Barak also comes to his defense: “The chaos is raging. The prime minister is a shmata. A floor rag. Stopping a rabbi in Haifa, because he married people according to Conservative tradition — is a dumb thing that will hurt everything that links us to Jews around the world, and at the same time, the rights of every citizen. This disgrace needs to be erased. A government that this happened under should fall.”
  • In The Times of Israel’s Blogs section, Ariel Paz-Sawicki writes of the incident as even worse than the government’s embrace of Hungarian Prime MInister Viktor Orban, its refusal to back surrogacy for gay dads and the nation-state bill:
  • “The arrest of Rabbi Haiyun marks a dark turn. From a legal perspective, Haiyun is clearly innocent: non-Orthodox wedding services are common and legal in Israel, while being unrecognized by the state for registry purposes. … Rabbi Haiyun’s arrest shows the strength of the ultra-Orthodox, and their willingness to use this strength not only for political purposes, but for personal vendettas against liberal rabbis.”

6. Orban’s arrival has a lot of people very angry at the government, though it is pushing ahead as if everything is hunky dory.

  • Not a story about Orban goes by without mentioning his campaign against George Soros and in support of Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy. But not only is the government not shunning him, it is giving him a royal welcome.
  • The Foreign Ministry’s decision to send out a special note welcoming him upon his arrival and feting him for supposedly fighting anti-Semitism is a rare one, ToI’s Raphael Ahren noted Wednesday evening, likely a chance to kiss up to one of Israel’s few friends in the European Union.
  • A day after the paper published “exclusive” documents showing how good Orban is for the Jews, on Thursday Israel Hayom op-ed writer Yehuda Shalem writes that the left is being willfully blind in trying to tar Orban and Netanyahu.
  • “When the left wants, it can whitewash even killers,” he claims, citing the embrace of Yasser Arafat after Oslo, “whom Menachem Begin compared to Hitler.”

7. The government’s decision to not walk back its support for Orban breaks a trend of about-faces, from Trump’s Russia flub, to Netanyahu supporting surrogacy for gay men but voting against it, to now Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg trying to defend himself from claims that he’s defending Holocaust denial on his social media platform.

  • “Mark Zuckerberg seems to think good-faith Holocaust denial is a thing,” reads a headline in the Los Angeles Times.
  • Holocaust denial warrior Deborah Lipstadt, who was incorrectly cited in a JTA article as having a stance similar to Zuckerberg’s, writes on CNN why his refusal is so dangerous.
  • “What Zuckerberg fails to understand — even though he claims this was not his aim — is that by saying deniers aren’t “intentionally” getting things wrong, he leaves open the possibility that they could be right. For someone with Zuckerberg’s massive profile and platform, this is breathtakingly irresponsible,” she writes.
  • While the comments made a splash in the US, they are barely noticed by the Hebrew-language press. Apparently not noticing things related to Facebook is a thing.

8. The Israeli press did take a bit more notice of a proposal in Austria that would force Jews to register if they want kosher meat.

  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren takes a look at how the legislative sausage was made, though, and found more than meats the (rib)eye.
  • Ahren finds the law had zero chance of passing, but was quickly taken up as a rallying cry against the far-right FPOe, until it emerged that the idea of a registry actual originated with the ruling Social Democrats.
  • “At the time of this writing, it remains unclear how many, if any, heads will roll because of this saga. But the noise it has already created likely guarantees Austrian Jews’ supply of kosher wieners for the foreseeable future,” he notes.

9. So what are Israelis paying attention to? An MK who had her buttocks touched by another MK from her party, creating a mini Me Too storm in the Knesset.

  • Several other lawmakers rushed to Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin’s defense and slammed Eitan Broshi for the action and his initial refusal to apologize.
  • Verbin, though, accepted the apology and got up in the Knesset to slam the “judginess of women,” apparently referring to those who asked why she didn’t slap him.
  • The saga makes front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, under the headline “forbidden touch.”
  • Columnist Hen Artzi Srour takes up Nahmias-Verbin’s cause, calling for Broshi’s resignation under the headline but somehow joining her in criticizing those that tried to tell her how she should have acted (even when she has not called for him to resign).
  • “It’s unbelievable that there were sages who told the MK she should have slapped him, that criticized her for accepting his apology, that slammed her for her reaction later being different from her initial response, who knew to tell her what’s right and what’s not,” she writes. “How is it possible that we copy again and again the same reductive automatic responses, as if we haven’t learned a thing.”
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