A Nation-state Law Which No One Needs

The only objective of this proposed Basic Law is to serve as fodder in internal wrangling over who is more patriotic within the right-wing camp.

A copy of the original Balfour Declaration at the Israel Museum.
Israeli Jews don’t need a constant reminder of the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to establish a “national home” for the Jewish people. Uriel Cohen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an instruction on Saturday that prevented the new draft of the Basic Law on the Nation-State being brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday morning. The new draft was the product of MK Avi Dichter (Likud), who also proposed the original bill some four years ago.

Netanyahu understood that, at a time when racism is increasing and relations between Israeli Jews and Arabs are fragile and combustible – in part due to the wild incitement emanating from his own bureau – the bill could further inflame the atmosphere and sabotage efforts to establish calm.

Dichter’s original draft included clauses such as subordinating the country’s democratic character to its Jewish one, to the extent that courts could prefer nationalistic considerations to democratic principles, a commitment to Jewish settlement only, without a commitment to construction for minorities, and the determination of Hebrew as the sole official language.

The original proposal posed serious constitutional difficulties. But the softer, newer version – with its more refined yet murky formulations – proves that the only objective of this proposed Basic Law is to serve as fodder in internal wrangling over who is more patriotic within the right-wing camp. The various versions of the bill that have surfaced over the years, all of which were subjected to harsh juridical criticism, prove that its objectives are totally flawed a priori, and that this bill is completely redundant.

Three quarters of Israel’s population are Jewish. They don’t need a constant reminder of the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to establish a “national home” for the Jewish people (the same declaration also promised the Arabs that their rights would be protected), or the self-evident statement of the Declaration of Independence that “the Jewish people arose in the Land of Israel.” Everyone is familiar with the history of Zionism and the state, with the Balfour Declaration and the Declaration of Independence. And those who wanted to ensure preferential status for Jews living abroad who wish to immigrate to Israel got their wish with the Law of Return.

The Basic Law on the Nation-State is a provocative bill, both internally and externally. It will exacerbate the issue of dual loyalty of Jews around the world, since if a foreign country declares itself the nation-state of American, French or Russian Jews, that implies their affinity to Israel vies with their loyalty to the countries they reside in. Internally, the law will only accentuate discrimination and inequality directed toward the non-Jewish quarter of the population.

Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon conditioned his joining the coalition on obtaining the right to veto this proposed Basic Law. Even though two of his party members are signatories to Dichter’s proposed bill, Kahlon bears the responsibility for stopping this government’s dangerous nationalistic gallop, by torpedoing this unacceptable law.