Analysis from Israel

In many ways, the year that just ended was a difficult one for Israel–a war in Gaza, terror in Jerusalem, escalating international opprobrium, a slowing economy. Perhaps that explains why so little attention has been paid to the fact that last year also marked the achievement, for the first time in Israel’s history, of one of Zionism’s longtime goals: In a year where immigration to Israel hit a 10-year high, a majority of the immigrants, for the first time ever, came from the West. In other words, for the first time ever, most immigrants came to Israel not because they had no other options, but because they wanted to come.

Granted, rising anti-Semitism in Europe contributed to the immigration surge; Jews from France, where anti-Semitism has increasingly turned violent, constituted more than a quarter of the 26,500 immigrants. But there’s another factor as well, epitomized by the identical and completely unsolicited comments I independently received from citizens of two different European countries at last week’s Limmud UK conference: Europe, they said, feels dead. Israel feels alive.

And it’s worth noting that neither of the speakers came from one of the continent’s economic basket cases. They came from Britain and the Netherlands, two of Europe’s stronger economies.

Indeed, as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky pointed out, until not long ago, even French Jews who wanted to leave Europe preferred to go to Montreal. Today, as many as 70 percent choose Israel–and the number is likely to keep growing. A year ago, the Jewish Agency ran one immigration information seminar a month in France, Sharansky said. Now, it runs two a day.

I don’t know whether Tel Aviv’s building boom really outpaces construction in European cities, or whether Israelis really smile more than Europeans–both factors my Limmud interlocutors cited as contributing to their impression of Israel’s vibrancy. But one thing they said is certainly correct: You see more children in Israel than you do in Europe. In fact, Israel is the only country in the Western world with a birthrate above replacement rate.

And in that sense, their assessment is literal truth: Europe’s aging, shrinking population condemns it to slow oblivion, whereas Israel’s relatively high birthrate (3.05 children per women) means it is constantly rejuvenating itself. The very fact that Israelis, unlike Europeans, are still bringing children into the world is a sign that they still believe Israel has a future.

And clearly, many Diaspora Jews do as well–because nobody, no matter how badly he wanted to leave Europe, would opt for Israel rather than another Western country if he didn’t consider Israel an attractive country with a bright future.

“Here you have for the first time, a clear thing,” Sharansky said. “There is a massive exodus from a community in the free world, which has all the doors open to them, and they are choosing Israel.”

It’s a Zionist dream come true. And a wonderful beginning to 2015.

Originally published in Commentary 

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Why equality doesn’t belong in the nation-state law

Ever since Israel’s nation-state law was enacted in July, one constant refrain has sounded: The law should have included a provision guaranteeing equality to all Israelis. It’s not only the law’s opponents who say this; so do many of its supporters, liberals and conservatives alike. But they are wrong.

Adding a provision about equality to the nation-state law sounds innocuous because civic and political equality is already implicitly guaranteed through the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Basic Laws are Israel’s closest approximation to constitutional legislation, and the 1992 law, which protects the “dignity of any person as such,” has been consistently interpreted by the courts as enshrining equality on the grounds that discrimination violates a person’s dignity. So what harm could it do to offer an explicit guarantee in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People?

The answer is that doing so would elevate Israel’s democratic character above its Jewish one. And that would negate the entire purpose of the nation-state law, which was to restore Israel’s Jewish character to parity with its democratic one—not superiority, but merely parity.

To understand why this is so, it’s first necessary to understand why adding an equality provision would violate basic constitutional logic. This argument was cogently made from the liberal side of the political spectrum by Haim Ramon, a former senior Labor Party Knesset member and former justice minister. Writing in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last month, Ramon argued that if anyone thinks equality isn’t sufficiently protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, they should work to amend that law rather than the nation-state law, as the former is where any provision on equality belongs.

This isn’t mere semantic quibbling. A constitution, being a country’s supreme instrument of governance, isn’t supposed to be a jumble of random provisions thrown together with no more thought than a monkey sitting at a keyboard might provide; it’s supposed to be a carefully crafted document. That’s why constitutions typically group all provisions relating to a given topic into a single article or chapter. Each article has equal status; none is more or less important than the others. And together, they create a comprehensive document that addresses all the basic questions of governance.

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