Two weeks after the historic celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the state’s establishment, the Knesset is busy with another historic process. On Monday, it is expected to hold the first of three votes on the proposed Basic Law, which states that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. The nation-state bill is meant to be the state’s identity card, equivalent to the preamble of a constitution, which defines its identity and values.
One of the “compromises” of the committee that prepared the law for its first vote was the removal of the section that established the explicit supremacy of the nation-state law over all other laws. Also removed was a paragraph stating that the law’s purpose is “to enshrine in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.”
In other words, the Knesset sought to make clear that the purpose of the law is to fundamentally change the balance between Israel as a Jewish state and a democratic one, and to undermine the values of the Declaration of Independence, which promised a state that grants full equality to all its citizens. Apparently the combination of “Jewish and democratic” and the values of the Declaration of Independence have became inconceivable concepts — just like the words “equality” and “human rights,” which the Knesset refused to include in the law.
It’s clear that the purpose of the bill, even in its “balanced” version, is to strengthen the Jewish character of the state at the expense of its democratic character. This is meant to be a law that requires a special majority to amend it, and which will allow lawmakers and the government to argue that it prevails over the rulings of the Supreme Court and the High Court’s interpretations of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, in which the right to equality is not expressly mentioned.
The nation-state law still includes the scandalous clause permitting the establishment of separate communities. The nation-state committee’s legal adviser, Gur Bligh, explained that the clause, “raises significant difficulties with regard to basic principles and particularly the principle of equality, since it permits the establishment of communities based on discrimination against various groups, first and foremost against non-Jews.” Indeed, this clause is a badge of shame for a state that seeks to be the national home of a people well-versed in suffering, persecution and generations of ethnic-based exclusion. Voting in favor of such a bill is not just an anti-liberal and antidemocratic act, it is an anti-Zionist act, because it undermines the values of the Declaration of Independence, which enshrined the principles and character of the state, but which today would probably not pass the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Instead of continuing to try to soften the bill in order to pass it, it would be best to just drop it and suffice with the existing Basic Laws.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.