December 2, 2014


Binyamin Netanyahu's nationality bill is at odds with the Hebrew Bible (Giles Fraser, 28 November 2014, The Guardian)

[T]hroughout the Bible at least, this experience of being strangers in strange lands has another consequence: it amplifies the empathy that the writers of the Hebrew scriptures have for migrants and minorities. Thus, for instance, Deuteronomy 10:19 goes as follows: "And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." Its not a one-off passage. Again and again precisely this formula of expression is used to encourage identification with people who find themselves living in someone else's country and culture. And this sense of solidarity is such that the Bible insists that both Jews and non-Jews are to be subject to the same laws, the latter having the same legal protections as the former. The Book of Numbers has it thus: "The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord. The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you."

This passage clearly demonstrates that the latest move by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is a direct contradiction of the Hebrew Bible, both in word and in spirit. For the new nationality bill that he and others are currently fighting to get through the Knesset is designed to deny national rights to non-Jewish Israeli citizens. In its supporters' minds it is supposed to be all about expressing the Jewish nature of Israel, that this is a state whose lifeblood is Judaism. And as its detractors have pointed out, this sets Israel's Jewish character above its democratic character, defying the founding principles of Israel as expressed in the declaration of independence in 1948. This is bad enough, but what makes the move utterly absurd is that it flies in the face of the very religion that it is designed to protect.

Of course, you may not think this matters and that a modern democratic state ought to ignore what is said in a dusty old book. Fair enough. But what needs to be said is that this dusty old book is not a manual for the oppression of foreigners but for their liberation. The Moses movement was a world-historical blow for freedom, and it was the job of the ancient prophets to remind Israel of this, especially during periods of forgetfulness when they were more interested in the development of their own centralised empire under David and Solomon.

Posted by at December 2, 2014 4:28 PM

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