24 Druze Local Politicians File Seventh Court Challenge Against Nation-state Law

The top court petition claims the Knesset exceeded its authority, inflicting 'harm on the core of democracy'

Leaders from the Druze minority rally in protest against Jewish nation-state law in Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 4, 2018.
Corinna Kern/Reuters

Two dozen Israeli Druze, led by Daliat al-Carmel Mayor Rafik Halabi, filed Sunday a High Court of Justice petition against the nation-state law passed by the Knesset in July.

It was the seventh such challenge to the law, officially known as the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.

>>Basic Law or basically a disaster? Israel’s nation-state law controversy explained

As a Basic Law, the law has constitutional status. In addition to defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people exclusively, the law downgraded the status of the Arabic language in Israel. It made Hebrew the country’s only official language, conferring “special status” on Arabic, while also saying that none of its provisions will affect the standing Arabic had in practice before its passage.

The law also stipulates that Jewish settlement of the land is “a national value.”

The petitioners argued that the law “creates race-based discrimination” and, in an apparent reference to Israel’s Arabic-speaking citizens — a group that includes the Druze minority — “excludes 20 percent of the country’s citizens and creates [different] statuses among Israeli citizens.”

The petition also states that “the petitioners, like most of the Druze, feel that the nation-state law has betrayed them.”

The 24 petitioners include, in addition to Halabi, other members of the town council in Daliat al-Carmel, a Druze community outside Haifa, as well as former MK Zeidan Atashi, who represented the now-defunct Shinui party in the Knesset from 1977 to 1981 and from 1984 to 1988.

The petition argues that in passing the law, the Knesset exceeded its authority and violated the fundamental principles of Israel’s legal system. It says the law “inflicts harm on the core of democracy and is a deprivation of the right of equality.” The petitioners claim the law also contradicts Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which speaks of equal rights for all of the country’s citizens.

Speaking to Haaretz this month, one of the law’s sponsors, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, said that it ended what he called “the ongoing erosion of Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

“The law expresses a good balance,” Levin said. “Its major test will be in its application. It’s totally clear to me that if we don’t reform the [High Court of Justice], we will not obtain what we wanted. We have laid an excellent foundation. When we make a change to the judicial system and the composition of the justices is different, the final result will be completely balanced.”

As Levin sees it, the main purpose of the nation-state law is to permit justices with a right-wing agenda to express it in their rulings.

“This law is important because it rips off the mask from the faces of the incumbent justices. Until now, they could hide behind the argument that they were following the norms provided by the existing basic laws. Now their work is more difficult, not that it will fully prevent a few of them from continuing to rule based on their political opinions and not based on the legal situation.”

Commenting on protests from the Druze community, members of which, unlike most other Israeli Arab citizens, are subject to the military draft, Levin said: “I agree with the Druze completely. They have been unfairly treated for years, but not due to the nation-state law. Most Druze don’t oppose the law at all. Even most who are protesting say that this is the nation-state of the Jewish people and it needs to be set [in law].”