Proposed Nation-state Law Repudiates Israel and Undermines Its Democracy

The Netanyahu-supported law would confirm to the world that Israel is discriminating, racist and en route to apartheid, as its worst enemies allege

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The Israeli flag in Jerusalem, on December 1, 2017
The Israeli flag in Jerusalem, on December 1, 2017Credit: Thomas Coex / AFP

Coalition Members of Knesset from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu this week tabled an alternative version to the government-backed Basic Law proposal that declares Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people.

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The most prominent of the suggested changes is a clause stipulating that Israel “will maintain equal rights for all its citizens”. The addition is necessary, its proponents argue, because the proposed law, as it currently stands, does not guarantee “equal rights for all its citizens”. Instead, it legislates discrimination in favor of Jewish citizens, at the expense of all the rest.

This is not the only or even the main flaw of the so-called nation-state law, which Minister Yariv Levin, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has pledged to bring to the bill for first reading in the Knesset in the very near future. Citing an urgent need to anchor the connection between the Jewish people and their homeland in a constitutional Basic Law, the Knesset would also upset the delicate balance between Jewish and democratic, the two main pillars of Israel’s identity. The proposed law would anoint the Jewish element of the state and consign its democracy to a subservient role. It instructs the courts to interpret all Israeli legislation under guidance that the Jewish element takes precedence over the democratic.

Under the guise of strengthening the ties between Jews and their ancient land, the law’s proponents are actually carrying out a putsch against democracy.

The law would relegate the status of the Arabic language from “formal” to “special.” It would enshrine in a Basic Law, and not just ordinary legislation, the right of screening committees in various communities to legally discriminate against non-Jews. The existing collection of laws, regulations and policies that already discriminate in practice against non-Jews isn’t enough apparently for the patriotic MK’s supporting this bill. They want to shout it from all the rooftops that in Israel, Jews are first class citizens and all the rest aren’t.

Even Lieberman’s colleagues in Yisrael Beitenu, a party not known to champion human rights and democratic values, are now realizing that discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens might also inflict direct and collateral damage on non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, their constituents.

Levin stated this week that the law will be brought to a first reading as is, without any of the amendments sought by members of the coalition, which will be discussed, supposedly, at some later date, before the law’s final approval. Sources in the coalition told Haaretz that the chances that the start differences within the coalition will be resolved are slim. If their assessment is correct, Israel will wind up poking itself in the eye for no good or even bad reason. Its non-Jewish citizens will feel rejected and betrayed while international public opinion, which won’t delve too deeply into the complexities of Israeli legislative procedures, will view the law as confirmation that Israel is discriminating, racist and on its way to apartheid, as its worst enemies allege.

The law, meanwhile, will die a slow death in some Knesset committee.  Small wonder that Tzipi Livni has raised a suspicion that all of this much ado about nothing is only a diversion to keep the media away from Netanyahu’s criminal investigations.

Some of the supporters of the proposed nation-state law freely admit its purpose: to distance Israel from the liberal and democratic principles that have guided it, however imperfectly, since its inception, and to prevent the courts from relying on them in their rulings. En route to their revolutionary objectives, the nationalist politicians on the right are willing to alienate a significant part of Israel’s population and to give Israel’s worst enemies a devastating propaganda victory.

Any Knesset that can approve such an inherently anti-Israeli law, even if only in a non-binding first reading, will be worthy of Oliver Cromwell’s famous words to the English Rump Parliament 450 years ago: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"