Don’t Fix It, Just Nix It

The nation-state bill in its current form enables de-facto geographic separation between Arabs and Jews; Israel's deputy state attorney has already warned it is a 'blatant discrimination against human beings'

A joint Knesset committee (with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in attendance on the right) discusses the nation-state bill.
Emil salman

In an urgent discussion on Tuesday, a special committee to advance the nation-state bill approved the bill’s new version for a preliminary Knesset vote. The nation-state bill is the rightist government’s flagship piece of legislation and is intended to violate the equal rights of Israel’s Arabs, which were promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Despite the concessions and omissions made in the bill’s last draft, the new approved version also confirms that it is a bad, unnecessary proposal. This is demonstrated by the deletion of the clause saying the bill’s goals are to “ensure in a Basic Law Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles in the declaration on establishing the State of Israel.” This clause, which hinted at the full equality ensured in the Declaration of Independence, was omitted as “compensation” for omitting a clause about the supremacy of the Jewish nation to “any other legislation.” In other words, in the distorted value system of the bill’s sponsors, they needed a balance: If you can’t subordinate the law book and basic laws to the values of Judaism, then in exchange, the democratic part must also be deleted.

The fear of “surplus democracy” runs as a theme throughout the proposal’s new version. The current bill enables de facto geographic separation between Jews and Arabs, due to the “separate settlement clause.” Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was right to make it clear that he opposed this clause. His representative, Deputy State Attorney Eyal Zandberg, explained that this clause was tantamount to “blatant discrimination against human beings, which is not in keeping with Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state. This clause means that there can be a sign in the acceptance committee saying ‘no entry to non-Jews.’”

Even if the bill undergoes other changes and adjustments, it will undermine the existing balance between the state’s democratic basis and Jewish basis, which is already ensured in quasi-constitutional basic laws and numerous ordinary laws. No democracy allows legislation that establishes its national character without granting complete equality to minorities, both in legislation and in declaration.

If the nation-state bill’s goal is indeed to be Israel’s identity card, then the party leaders concocting the current bill know full well that Israel already has one: the Declaration of Independence. But instead of celebrating it, they are undermining it, and by so doing they are also undermining Israel’s seminal fundamental values, first and foremost the value of equal rights for all the state’s citizens.

The bill’s legislative process clarifies to its supporters that it isn’t in keeping with a democracy committed to its citizens’ equal rights. This is a harmful bill, one that will have a bad effect on the attitude of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens toward the state that wants to legalize discrimination against them, and on the world’s regard for Israeli democracy. The right thing to do is to renounce this bill.

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