The Proposed Nation-state Law Is Discriminatory and Nationalistic

In its new version, the nation-state bill does not recognize the status of Arabic as an official language, and will allow the establishment of separate communities based on ethnicity or religion

Students marching in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem in memory of a fallen soldier on February 18, 2018.
יצחק הררי / דוברות

Patriotism, as we know, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. And in fact, while the attorney general is examining whether the evidence collected by the police in their investigations of the prime minister is sufficient to indict him, as they have recommended, coalition members are taking advantage of the time to promote a bill banning the use of loudspeakers in mosques and a bill declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. 

A moment before the winter session of the Knesset ends, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and his Likud colleagues MKs Amir Ohana and Avi Dichter scheduled a surprise meeting for Wednesday morning of the special committee for the advancement of the nation-state bill, with the goal of approving, for its first Knesset vote, a new Basic Law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. 

But the haste and timing are not the real problems in the nation-state bill. The basic problem has been present in all of the bill’s earlier versions, and is rooted in its discriminatory intent. It is an attempt to enshrine in a Basic Law the preeminence of the Jewish element of the state over the democratic element — something which its framers believe would make it the most important law passed since Israel’s founding.

There is no doubt that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. This is reflected in the Declaration of Independence. It is also reflected in the laws of the state – first and foremost in the Law of Return – and in other Basic Laws. But at the same time, the Declaration of Independence stresses Israel’s commitment to full equal rights to its non-Jewish citizens. And in the Basic Laws the state is defined as Jewish and democratic. Democratic no less than Jewish. The nation-state bill creates ascendency of the Jewish component over the democratic component, while defiantly refusing to clearly state – that the state recognizes the principle of full equal rights for all its citizens. No country in the world has such a constitution. Moreover, the countries that are most overtly nation-states of a particular people are the ones that explicitly declare in the preamble to their constitutions that this status does not contradict the principle of equality and that the country is also the state of the minorities within it.

In its new version, formulated on Tuesday, the nation-state bill does not recognize the status of Arabic as an official language, and will allow the state to establish separate communities based on ethnicity or religion. In other words, communities “clean” of Arabs.

Beyond the damage to democracy and the status of non-Jews, the law harms the legitimacy of Zionism. The determination that, in a nation-state of the Jewish people it would be impossible to recognize the right to equality of Arab citizens, undermines the claim made by Zionist leaders for years – that the future state would respect the rights of the minority.

 In the words of pre-state Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky: “If we were to have a Jewish majority in Eretz Israel, then first of all, we would create here a situation of total, absolute, and complete equal rights, with no exceptions.” A vote for the nation-state bill is a rude breach of this pledge.

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