Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People – the liberal justification

By December 30, 2015 January 10th, 2019 Nation State

Aviad Bakshi


There are those who argue that the idea of a Jewish nation-state contradicts the liberal values of human rights and therefore is illegitimate. Others agree, for various reasons, to accept the legitimacy of a state for the Jewish nation despite their feeling that it is a violation of the values of human rights. They seek to minimize the expression of the Jewish nation component in the State of Israel’s internal legal system.  They, therefore,

oppose a Basic Law calling for the State of Israel to be recognized as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This position paper argues the opposite.

Anchoring the notion of Israel as the Jewish nation-state in law is needed not despite- but because of Israel’s commitment to the liberal values of human rights. The point of view, which seeks to prevent people embodying their self-identification in a nation-state, manifests a lack of respect for people and is detrimental to the basic human right to autonomy, identity, and culture. It is this point of view which suppresses human rights and which is seeped in cultural imperialism.  It violates the basic liberal value of respecting each person as a whole. This position paper argues that a liberal nation-state is obligated to safeguard the human rights of minority groups and continually to strike a balance between those rights and the country’s identity as a nation-state, respecting each person’s right to self-identification within the nation-state.

We open with a survey of individualistic liberalism, which sees only the welfare and rights of individuals and refuses to recognize an individual’s right and need to belong to and identify with a group. According to this narrow view of liberalism, nationality does indeed stand in contradiction. The paper then analyzes in depth the changes which liberalism has undergone over the past thirty years, including a recognition of the right to a group culture and identity. The paper presents Michael Sandel’s critique, which states that the protection afforded human rights by individualistic liberalism is an empty defense; there is no point in discussing the right to autonomy, respect, and personal identity if we ignore the deep-seated connection most people have to group cultures and identities – including their national identities. Another criticism of individualistic liberalism surveyed in this paper is that of Alasdair MacIntyre, who posits that there are those who wish to live lives detached from group cultures and therefore object to national identities, but they make up another, particular cultural sub-group. There is no justification for positing this specific group’s values as meta-values and to impose them on other groups of individuals who do see a national identity as a central tenet of their respective personal identities. In keeping with this criticism, it is argued that individualistic liberalism is nothing but imperialism which seeks to force onto most people a culture and scale of values alien to them. This imperialism is absurdly justified by invoking people’s liberal right to autonomously shape their own identity. We further argue that revoking people’s right to nationality because of individualistic liberalism is not liberalism at all; this is oppression based on an arbitrary refusal to honor people’s right to autonomy and to a unique and authentic identity.

As a follow-up, and in the wake of what has been said by some philosophers regarding the right to culture, this position paper further argues that an acknowledgement of a right to a national culture demands a defense of the liberal nation-state as an authentic expression of this right. It is argued, for example, that there is no point in defending the Jews’ right to express their culture by declaring “Next year in Jerusalem” unless it is accompanied by the right to act to realize those deep cultural values through the existence of a Jewish nation-state.

Our conclusion is that the liberal point of view demands the defense of people’s right to self-definition and therefore demands the defense of the right of the Jewish people to a state for the Jewish nation. Consistent with the liberal axioms for our discussion, this nation-state for the Jewish nation must be a liberal nation-state with a deep commitment to the human rights of all its residents. It is thus necessary to enact legal safeguards of individual rights through Basic Laws.  And it is no less necessary to enact Basic Laws guaranteeing its identity as the Jewish nation-state.

To the full position paper 

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