'Jewish Nation-state' Bill Sets Out to Establish Democracy for Jews Only

Government must reject shameful bill outright.

The Israeli flag.
The Israeli flag. Dreamstime

The bill proposing a basic law on Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people will be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday in its original form. This version, by MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) – which differs from the “laundered” version presented by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), which was discussed by the committee and passed on to a special committee headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – lets the cat out of the bag: The Jewish character of Israel supersedes its democratic character. The Jewishness of the state is manifest in discrimination against Arabs, and its democracy is none other than a regime that lets the majority do anything it wants and exploits the minority.

The current version of the bill states specifically that it is intended to outrank any ordinary legislation or basic law that preceded it, and that all legislation will be interpreted through it. Thus, the bill undermines the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom (1992), which ensures the right to human dignity, including the right not to be discriminated against based on affiliation to a certain group.

The bill also obviates the official status of the Arabic language, encourages preference for Jewish communities as opposed to non-Jewish ones, and declares that the state reserves the possibility to establish communities on the basis of national or religious affiliation.

According to the bill, while Jews have a collective right to heritage and culture backed by the state, Arab citizens may foster their culture by themselves. The bill would also strengthen the status of religion in the country by increasing the impact of Jewish jurisprudence and making it an “inspiration to the legislator.”

The purpose and significance of the law – to reestablish the constitutional foundation of the State of Israel in a manner that elevates its Jewish character and compromises its democratic character – threatens to destroy Israel’s democratic way of government, and to justify claims that Israel is a “democracy for Jews only.” This legislation clearly undercuts the Zionist ideal of the establishment of an exemplary, egalitarian and democratic society.

The presentation of the bill at this time, with tensions between Jews and Arabs running so high, is a political move lacking wisdom and sensitivity. It also raises the suspicion that its framers want to raise tensions further for political gain. The government, which is obligated to the Declaration of Independence and the protection of democracy in Israel, must reject this shameful bill outright.