Thought Crimes

Would Meryl Streep, Spike Lee, Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon be
willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States and its
policies in order to receive public funding for feature films that they
star in, direct or produce? In Israel, the far-right Knesset member
Michael Ben Ari has proposed a bill that would require entire film crews
to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and to
declare loyalty to its laws and symbols, as a condition for receiving
public funding. It's just one of more than ten bills to be discussed
during the Knesset's winter session that several commentators in Ha'aretz have characterised as proto-fascist.

in most democracies, all new Israeli citizens must declare loyalty to
the state and its laws, but the cabinet last month decided to support
(22 in favour, 8 against) an amendment to Israel's citizenship law
that would require all newly naturalised citizens to declare loyalty to
the Jewish character of the state. In Britain, this would be like
requiring Jews, Muslims and atheists who wish to become citizens to
declare loyalty not only to the laws of the United Kingdom but also to
the Church of England.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has warned that this amendment, which will soon become law, is the tip of an iceberg. Some of the bills now going through the Knesset,
which have a good chance of being ratified, would make support for an
alternative political ideology, such as the idea that Israel should be a
democracy for all its citizens, a crime.

A proposed amendment to
the existing anti-incitement bill, for instance, stipulates that people
who deny Israel's Jewish character will be arrested. This extension to
the penal code, which has already passed its preliminary reading,
incriminates a political view. Another bill lays the groundwork for
turning down candidates for membership in communal settlements built on
public land if they do not concur with the settlement committee's
political views or are adherents of a different religion. The point of
this is to make it legal to deny Palestinian citizens of Israel access
to Jewish villages.

Still another bill that has already passed its
first reading stipulates that institutions marking the Palestinian
Nakba of 1948 will be denied public funds. This is like denying public
funding to schools in the United States that wish to commemorate slavery
or to memorialise the crimes perpetrated against Native Americans.

there is a bill against people who initiate, promote, or publish
material that might serve as grounds for imposing a boycott against
Israel. According to this proposed law, which has also passed a
preliminary reading, anyone proven guilty of supporting a boycott will
be ordered to pay affected parties about $8000 without the plaintiff's
need to demonstrate any damages.

Finally, eight Knesset members
are proposing a bill to ban residents of East Jerusalem from operating
as tour guides in the city, potentially putting hundreds out of work.
The rationale behind this is that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem
should not be certified guides because they do not represent Israel's
national interest well enough 'and in an appropriate manner'.

sudden spate of these bills at this historical juncture is no
coincidence. The struggle between the democratic demand that all
citizens be treated equally and Zionism's hyper-nationalist ideal seems
to have been determined once and for all: Zionism's aspiration to
promote democratic values is giving way to its nationalist ethos.

First published in London Review of Books.

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