Guardian op-ed by Daniel Barenboim distorts nation-state law and Israel’s founding principles

Daniel Barenboim, in his Guardian op-ed, follows in the Guardian tradition of expressing contempt for the state by claiming that its policies betray the country’s founding principles, whilst distorting both the policies and founding principles. His piece attacking the Jewish nation-state law grossly mischaracterises both the bill and the founding Zionist ideals (articulated in Israel's Declaration of Independence) it is said to betray.

In his Guardian op-ed, Daniel Barenboim, a musician who holds Israeli citizenship, follows in the Guardian tradition of expressing contempt for Israel by claiming that its policies betray the country’s founding principles, whilst distorting both the policies and founding principles.  His piece attacking the Jewish nation-state law (This racist new law makes me ashamed to be Israeli, July 23) in fact grossly mischaracterises both the bill and the founding Zionist ideals (articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence) it is said to betray.

He begins by selectively quoting from Israel’s declaration of independence:

“The state of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people; it will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel; it will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex; it will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

Barenboim then argues that the founding fathers of the state “considered the principle of equality to be the bedrock of the society they were building”, but that, seventy years on, “the Israeli government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism.”

This law, he adds, “states that only the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination in Israel.”

However, the founding declaration he refers to doesn’t merely speak of equality, but also of the Jewish right to self-determination in their land.  Passages assert “the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country”, the right of Jews to “rebuild” their “national home”, and cite the right granted by the UN to “the Jewish people to establish their state”.  It further declares that the “Jewish people” have the right “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State”, and appeals “to the UN to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State”.

In short, the declaration enshrines equality under the law for all its inhabitants, whilst stressing, as does the new Jewish nation-state law, that national self-determination is reserved for Jews.  

Barenboim then argues that this part of the law represents “apartheid” as it “confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens”, a claim completely at odds with the truth, as the law doesn’t supersede the Basic Law on “Human Dignity and Liberty” which establishes “the fundamental rights granted to all Israeli citizens, Jewish or not.”

Interestingly, as Shany Mor pointed out in his letter in the Guardian, in response to Barenboim’s op-ed, the Palestinian constitution declares that Palestine is Arab, that Islam is its official religion, that Arabic is the official language and “recognises no other people as having a linguistic or cultural or political claim” to the state.

Would Barenboim, who also has Palestinian citizenship, characterise Palestine as a racist “apartheid” state?

Moreover, as International Law expert Eugene Kontorovich explained, the law’s declaration of Israel as a uniquely Jewish state, and declaring Hebrew the official language whilst protecting Arabic’s “special” status, is not inconsistent with liberal democratic constitutions of Europe.

The Latvian Constitution, Kontorovich explains, opens by declaring the “unwavering will of the Latvian nation to have its own State and its inalienable right of self-determination in order to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian nation, its language and culture throughout the centuries.” Latvia’s population, Kontorovich adds, is about 25% ethnically and linguistically Russian.  And, the Slovak Constitution, he notes, opens with the words, “We the Slovak nation,” possess “the natural right of nations to self-determination.”

The Spanish constitution states clearly that “national sovereignty belongs to the Spanish people”, not Catalans, Galicians or Basques. 

Would Barenboim, or the Guardian, ever publish an op-ed suggesting that Spain, Slovakia or Latvia have “racist” constitutions?

Of course, employing such double standards against the Jewish state, by holding it to standards not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, can arguably be characterised as antisemitic based on the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism –  a pattern of inconsistency in the expression of moral opprobrium which represents the most egregious element of the Guardian’s institutionally biased coverage of Israel. 

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