Editorial

Israel's Second-class-citizens Law

The main purpose of the nation-state bill is to put Israel's Arab citizens down and prepare for the eventually that Jews will become a minority between the river and the sea

Israeli Arabs in the northern Israeli city of Sakhnin during a strike in support of Palestinians, October 2015.
Israeli Arabs in the northern Israeli city of Sakhnin during a strike in support of Palestinians, October 2015. Jack Guez/AFP

The cabinet has agreed that the nation-state bill, which the Knesset approved in a preliminary vote Wednesday, won’t advance during the next two months, and that a government-sponsored bill on the issue will be drafted to replace it. Members of the ruling Likud party believe the government bill that will be presented in two months will be softer than the one the Knesset approved Wednesday and closer to the version drafted by MK Benny Begin.

This assessment is based on what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about the bill in the Knesset last week. He said the law would stipulate that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and would also enshrine the existing flag and anthem and Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s eternal capital. Because Netanyahu did not mention a long list of other controversial provisions that have appeared in various versions of the bill submitted by rightist MKs over the years, in particular the demand that Israel's democracy be subordinated to its Jewish character, those who oppose these ideas hope Netanyahu plans to leave them out of his bill.

But Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked appears to be unimpressed by either Likud’s speculations or Netanyahu’s declaration of intent. Judging by what she said late this week, it seems the government bill will be the very version so many people fear and will let judges prefer Israel’s Jewish character to its democratic one in rulings on issues where the two clash.

“For the last 20 years, ever since we legislated the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, we’ve seen the justice system give greater weight to democratic values than to Jewish values,” she said. “The nation-state law that was voted on this week will ensure the presence of Jewish values so that judges will have them in their toolbox.”

It’s not clear whether the differences between Netanyahu’s and Shaked’s statements reflect genuine ideological tensions within the right. But two things are clear. First, Shaked’s proposal is another attempt to turn Israel into a state governed by Jewish law, one that will be ruled by the settlers.

Second, no matter what form it ultimately takes, the main purpose of the nation-state bill is to remind Israel’s Arab citizens that they are second-class citizens while creating constitutional infrastructure for the possibility that Jews might become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, making it necessary to give them legal preference over other citizens. The usual name for that is apartheid.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.