Editorial

A State for Some of Its Citizens

Netanyahu's response to actress Rotem Sela exposes the ugly, naked truth: The nation-state law was meant to make it clear to Israeli Arabs that the state views them as second-class citizens

Netanyahu with lawmakers Ahmad Tibi, Jamal Zahalka and Ayman Odeh in the Knesset.
Emil Salman

What Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Instagram page Sunday in response to an Instagram post by actress Rotem Sela constitutes a public admission that, thanks to the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, Israel has ceased to be a democracy.

On Saturday, Sela published a courageous post in which she challenged the delegitimization of the Arab community’s political representatives. “Miri Regev sits down and tells Rina Matzliach that the public must take care, because if Benny Gantz is elected, he’ll have to set up a government with the Arabs,” Sela wrote, referring respectively to the culture minister, a journalist and the head of the Kahol Lavan joint ticket. “Rina Matzliach was silent. And I wonder why Rina didn’t ask her in shock, ‘And what’s the problem with the Arabs???’ God in heaven, there are also Arab citizens of this country. When the hell will someone in this government tell the Israeli public that this is a state of all its citizens?”

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In response, Netanyahu wrote a Instagram post in which he sought to correct her. “Israel isn’t a state of all its citizens,” he wrote. “According to the Basic Law on the nation-state that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it alone.

“There’s no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens; they have equal rights just like the rest of us,” he continued, agreeing with Sela on this point. He also noted the extra funding his government had allocated to the Arab community.

But he made it clear that this was the extent of the favors Israel was willing to grant the Arabs. In the legislature, they are worth less. Or as Netanyahu put it, Gantz and his political partner, Yair Lapid, have no way to form a government without the support of the Arab parties, “and any such government would undermine the security of the state and its citizens.”

The ugly, naked truth has been exposed: The nation-state law was meant to make it clear to Israeli Arabs that the state views them as second-class citizens. Admittedly, they have “equal rights just like the rest of us,” but they should know that the state doesn’t belong to “all its citizens.” Moreover, since Israel isn’t a state of all its citizens, any government that includes the Arab parties “would undermine the security of the state and its citizens.”

Even though nobody disputes that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, Netanyahu has now admitted that the nation-state law enshrines Jewish supremacy in law and declares that the state belongs more to a Jew who’s an American or Belgian citizen than it does to an Arab citizen born in this country. Through his post, he has revealed the real reason why the law, in contrast to the Declaration of Independence, didn’t cite the principle of equality as one of Israel’s foundational principles. And he has pulled the rug out from under the foundations of Israel’s democratic system of government

Given Netanyahu’s statements, supporters of the nation-state law no longer have any way to continue defending it and claiming that it doesn’t undermine democracy. It’s regrettable that the generals of the Kahol Lavan ticket lack Sela’s civic courage and go on collaborating with Netanyahu’s delegitimization of the Arab Knesset members.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.