Want Israel to Be a Jewish State? Then Oppose 'Jewish State' Bill

The 'Jewish State' bill, which seeks to exclude Arabs and promote an all-out assault on liberal democracy.

File photo: The Knesset.
File photo: The Knesset. Olivier Fitoussi

The bill for a Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People, which will be raised in the Ministerial Committee for Legisliation on Sunday, is the cherry on top of a wave of anti-democratic legislation being pushed by the Israeli government in recent years. The wave has included bills focusing on specific points, like preferential treatment for former soldiers, oppressing leftist organizations and silencing criticism, but the message put forward by these bills is exclusion of Arabs, nationalism and an all-out assault on liberal democracy in Israel.

This current incarnation of this bill - even if worded more softly than its predecessor, and even if a committee is formed to work out its details - would systematically institutionalize these messages: It would determine, openly and proudly, that Israel is too liberal-democratic and not Jewish enough. This bill’s objective is to “fix” that situation, meaning, to shift the scales in favor of Israel’s Jewish character, as opposed to its democratic character.

The bill casts doubt on the current rule of law, which grants equal rights to individuals and minorities, and not just the “personal rights” included in the bill, which, not randomly, fails to completely adopt the clear provision in Israel’s declaration of independence: “[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

The bill would even increase the influence of Jewish law on Israeli law, which would only take Israel further away from lawful democracy as practiced throughout the rest of the world.

Those who support Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state must oppose this bill. In addition to defining “nation state” as a synonym for a discriminatory and exclusionist state, it reawakens old arguments about the character of this country, a character that has been determined by existing Israeli law.

A final definition of the state’s character should only be made as part of a constitution, which would guarantee full and equal rights to all individuals and minority groups. Anything else only undermines Israel’s democratic nature.