Israeli Arabs Challenge Nation-state Law in Top Court: 'Most Extreme Principles Since End of Apartheid'

'The principles of this Basic Law are among the most extreme since the end of the apartheid regime,' petition asserts

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee's press conference on the nation-state law, August 7, 2018.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel along with a coalition of other Israeli Arab groups filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, challenging the controversial nation-state law, passed by the Knesset last month.

The law states that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which has exclusive right to self-determination in the country. It defines Hebrew as the country’s sole official language, designating Arabic as a language with special status, although adding that Arabic's status would not be harmed in practice.

Critics of the nation-state legislation, which, as a Basic Law, bears constitutional weight, object in part to the fact that it does not include a provision stating that all Israeli citizens are equal under the law.

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

The new petition claims that “the dominant purpose of the law is harmful to both the right to equality and the right to dignity,” and says that as a Basic Law, it will have a powerful effect on Israel’s constitutional system. No other democratic country’s constitution places the government at the disposal of a single ethnic group as the nation-state law does, it adds.

A demonstration in Tel Aviv against the Knesset's passage of the nation-state law, July 14, 2018.
Meged Gozani

“The discrimination based on Jewish separation and superiority is revealed in every section of the law,” the petition asserts. “The principles of this Basic Law are among the most extreme since the end of the apartheid regime” in South Africa.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said this week that if the High Court strikes down the nation-state law, “such a step would be an earthquake. It’s a war between branches of government.”

The petitioners claim that by passing the contentious law, the Knesset has exceeded its authority “in the most extreme way,” and allege that the impetus for it was imposition of legislation without seeking a wider consensus among the various different communities residing in the country. The manner in which it was passed, they charge, demonstrates that it was done without considering the implications for non-Jewish Israelis.

The petition – submitted by the umbrella organization for heads of local governments in Israeli Arab locales, the Joint List Knesset party and the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – is the fifth to be filed with the High Court against the law.

At a press conference Tuesday, Mohammed Baraka, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel, said that the committee speaks in the name of the entire Arab population in Israel, not only a particular party or group. "The nation-state law shows that what was once part of the platform of some small political parties is now a Basic Law. We expect all people, regardless of their political views, will be outraged and join us until this law is canceled," Baraka said. 

Baraka stated that the Joint List is holding a pre-planned meeting with EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini in early September, and that they hope to speak with UN secretary general as well. 

"This law has taken Israel out of the family of normal countries," Baraka stated. 

MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) said at the press conference that "this law is evil, colonialist and racist but it has another side to it, Netanyahu has given us a tool to show the world how deep racism in Israel runs." Zahalka added that he and his colleagues walked around the UN and handed hundreds of people a copy of the law, "we didn't say anything, this law speaks for itself. They read the law and everyone immediately said it's racist."

"If people reading the law will say it's different from the Apartheid laws I'll say: that's true, but it's from the same family," Zahalka added.

The petition is one part of the Arab monitoring committee's plan to challenge the law, which will include a motor convoy from Kafr Kara in the north to the Knesset on Wednesday, and a rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday, a week after the Druze community held a protest against the law at that same location.

Sources at the committee and the Joint List acknowledge that the Druze rally, which attracted a crowd of about 90,000, posed a “major challenge” when it comes to turnout at their protest. A campaign has thus been launched in Arab locales under the theme “I am participating” to encourage attendance. Organizers are also expected to reach out to various left-wing organizations to recruit their participation in the rally.

At the press conference Braka, referring to the Druze protest, said that "every voice coming out against this law is welcome, but I don't think citizenship should derive from loyalty to the regime or from military service.

The four other petitions opposing the law were filed by Druze Knesset members, by the opposition Meretz party, by members of the Bedouin community and by a group of Jewish lawyers.