Individual Rights and the Nation-State Law

Accepting sensible differences of opinion is essential in a democracy.  People living in a democracy often do not get their way.  For example, many became incensed over the fact that the Israeli Parliament passed the Nation-State Law.  While denying no one's rights, the new law does make it clear that only Jews have a right to national self-determination (as opposed to individual freedom) within Israel.  Arabs and other minorities must go elsewhere to build their own nation-state.

The apocalyptic hysteria that has ensued in the wake of the Nation-State Law does invite reflection about the nature of rights and leftist ideology.  What exactly, does a "right" imply?  How does one get a right?  Is it an entitlement distributed by the government, or is it earned?  Some rights are fundamental, as Jefferson so magisterially stated, and are derived from "nature and nature's God."  In other words, they are inherent.

Rights are self-evident because they are instinctual.  Although we are born with potential rights, they only gradually become actualized.  For example, in the first seconds, the infant cries in order to open her lungs and assume the right to life.  The infant demands her right to live and receives nourishment.  The adolescent tests parental authority and pursues his individual rights.  Rights begin in nature.  Thomas Hobbes pointed out that individuals must defend their rights.  Even in the best circumstances, there will always be conflicting rights.  Rights are guaranteed only by obligations; the Mosaic code described them as imperatives (Hebrew: mitzvot).  The Hebrews tied national independence and individual liberty to a code of law.

Government cannot grant rights to people because anything given can also be taken.  The main task of government is to provide for our common defense and impose an internal order so that our freedom does not decompose into social chaos – the war of all against all.  Government should strive to keep itself out of people's lives.  Individuals must remain vigilant against the government encroaching upon their freedom.  Our only guarantee of liberty is our willingness to fulfill our obligation to be free.  People who believe that others are responsible for our rights are dangerously close to losing those rights.  Two kinds of society are not free: the oppressed and the lawless.  Ideals such as justice, then, become extra-judicial matters.  Courts can decide upon only the laws that governments legislate.  Some may argue that politics should serve a moral purpose.  But reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements about right and wrong or good and evil.  Is the biblical mandate to "pursue justice" a political task for government, or is it a personal obligation of the individual?  Therefore, we must be circumspect when government confuses morals and politics.  Implied in the concept of political science is that, like any other science, politics must be value free.

Many accuse Israel and America of abandoning their democratic principles.  While they have a right to say what they believe, we also have the right to wonder: how is it that people whose deepest convictions appear to be democratic find it so difficult to accept the will of others?  In a democracy, someone or some group is usually offended because in a true democratic society, the will of the people trumps political correctness.  I am sure that the pain caused or imagined to minorities here in Israel by the Knesset's nation-state legislation will be eased as soon as political rhetoric and grandstanding recede in the face of reason.  Israel has no interest in alienating its Arab minority or its Jewish brothers and sisters in America.  However, some among the minorities have a political reason for shouting abuse.  They want to blur the lines between the equality that exists among all citizens of Israel and recognition of an Arab national right within Israel.  For example, the clarification that Hebrew is the official language of Israel is appropriate, especially in light of the fact that so many different languages are spoken by different segments of the population.  As Clermont-Tonnerre told the Jews when France was considering citizenship, "to the Jew as individual we offer equality, but to the Jews as a Nation, nothing."  Jews that chose French citizenship became French in culture; language; and, for many, even religion.  All that remained of their Hebraic heritage was its religious aspect.  Judaism was henceforth defined as religion.  The Nation-State Law, among other things, clarifies that Judaism is not merely a religious denomination; it is the civilization of Israel.

Protest is a "right" in a democracy.  But what are Israelis on the left and Arabs actually doing?  When reason or law refutes their argument, shouting may be helpful.  Political protest has become a ritual.  When politics becomes one's religion, faith often replaces reason.  Our viewpoints cease being a relative perspective upon an intangible truth.  Opinions take on the force of dogma.

The political process is about compromise.  Political functionaries work hard to "package" political theories into digestible sound bites in order to manipulate people and undermine a democratic process.  Democracy is an endangered political organization.  Freedom is a profoundly anxious human condition.  But only free people can assume their rights.  In order to ease our political angst, we make laws.  Often, we make too many laws.  Perhaps these protesters do realize that in a democracy, the will of the people governs, but they just don't like it.  

Accepting sensible differences of opinion is essential in a democracy.  People living in a democracy often do not get their way.  For example, many became incensed over the fact that the Israeli Parliament passed the Nation-State Law.  While denying no one's rights, the new law does make it clear that only Jews have a right to national self-determination (as opposed to individual freedom) within Israel.  Arabs and other minorities must go elsewhere to build their own nation-state.

The apocalyptic hysteria that has ensued in the wake of the Nation-State Law does invite reflection about the nature of rights and leftist ideology.  What exactly, does a "right" imply?  How does one get a right?  Is it an entitlement distributed by the government, or is it earned?  Some rights are fundamental, as Jefferson so magisterially stated, and are derived from "nature and nature's God."  In other words, they are inherent.

Rights are self-evident because they are instinctual.  Although we are born with potential rights, they only gradually become actualized.  For example, in the first seconds, the infant cries in order to open her lungs and assume the right to life.  The infant demands her right to live and receives nourishment.  The adolescent tests parental authority and pursues his individual rights.  Rights begin in nature.  Thomas Hobbes pointed out that individuals must defend their rights.  Even in the best circumstances, there will always be conflicting rights.  Rights are guaranteed only by obligations; the Mosaic code described them as imperatives (Hebrew: mitzvot).  The Hebrews tied national independence and individual liberty to a code of law.

Government cannot grant rights to people because anything given can also be taken.  The main task of government is to provide for our common defense and impose an internal order so that our freedom does not decompose into social chaos – the war of all against all.  Government should strive to keep itself out of people's lives.  Individuals must remain vigilant against the government encroaching upon their freedom.  Our only guarantee of liberty is our willingness to fulfill our obligation to be free.  People who believe that others are responsible for our rights are dangerously close to losing those rights.  Two kinds of society are not free: the oppressed and the lawless.  Ideals such as justice, then, become extra-judicial matters.  Courts can decide upon only the laws that governments legislate.  Some may argue that politics should serve a moral purpose.  But reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements about right and wrong or good and evil.  Is the biblical mandate to "pursue justice" a political task for government, or is it a personal obligation of the individual?  Therefore, we must be circumspect when government confuses morals and politics.  Implied in the concept of political science is that, like any other science, politics must be value free.

Many accuse Israel and America of abandoning their democratic principles.  While they have a right to say what they believe, we also have the right to wonder: how is it that people whose deepest convictions appear to be democratic find it so difficult to accept the will of others?  In a democracy, someone or some group is usually offended because in a true democratic society, the will of the people trumps political correctness.  I am sure that the pain caused or imagined to minorities here in Israel by the Knesset's nation-state legislation will be eased as soon as political rhetoric and grandstanding recede in the face of reason.  Israel has no interest in alienating its Arab minority or its Jewish brothers and sisters in America.  However, some among the minorities have a political reason for shouting abuse.  They want to blur the lines between the equality that exists among all citizens of Israel and recognition of an Arab national right within Israel.  For example, the clarification that Hebrew is the official language of Israel is appropriate, especially in light of the fact that so many different languages are spoken by different segments of the population.  As Clermont-Tonnerre told the Jews when France was considering citizenship, "to the Jew as individual we offer equality, but to the Jews as a Nation, nothing."  Jews that chose French citizenship became French in culture; language; and, for many, even religion.  All that remained of their Hebraic heritage was its religious aspect.  Judaism was henceforth defined as religion.  The Nation-State Law, among other things, clarifies that Judaism is not merely a religious denomination; it is the civilization of Israel.

Protest is a "right" in a democracy.  But what are Israelis on the left and Arabs actually doing?  When reason or law refutes their argument, shouting may be helpful.  Political protest has become a ritual.  When politics becomes one's religion, faith often replaces reason.  Our viewpoints cease being a relative perspective upon an intangible truth.  Opinions take on the force of dogma.

The political process is about compromise.  Political functionaries work hard to "package" political theories into digestible sound bites in order to manipulate people and undermine a democratic process.  Democracy is an endangered political organization.  Freedom is a profoundly anxious human condition.  But only free people can assume their rights.  In order to ease our political angst, we make laws.  Often, we make too many laws.  Perhaps these protesters do realize that in a democracy, the will of the people governs, but they just don't like it.