Why the Nations State Law is Bad for Minorities in Israel with source links

From the March/April-2019-pnl-865

by Zachary Field

The recent passage of Israel’s new Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People (or the “Nation-State Law” as it is often called), has codified the character of Jewish nationhood with constitutional status in Israeli law, but has conspicuously omitted any reference to democracy or equality. Palestinian and Druze Knesset members have variously described the law as “spitting in our face”, “a law of Jewish supremacy” and “an apartheid … racist law", and tens of thousands gathered to protest the legislation in demonstrations organized by the Druze and Palestinian communities.


The bill has been roundly criticized for including several provisions which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and other national and ethnic minorities including clauses which downgrade the status of Arabic from an official language, encourage and promote Jewish settlement as a national value, and declare Jewish citizens to be the unique possessors of the right to exercise national self-determination in the state. All peoples have the right to self-determination and self-determination is a core principle of international law. According to Israeli Law professor Tamar Hostovsky Brandeis “the Law may hinder the recognition of any form of collective rights of the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel” and “may also be used to justify inequality in state funding of initiatives and activities related to such pursuit.


Broad dissatisfaction with these provisions has triggered opposition from notable leaders in the North American mainstream Jewish establishment including the President of the Jewish Federations of North America, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League who have all criticized aspects of the law for its undemocratic and discriminatory character.


Supporters of the law assert that its contents are either not unusual among the constitutions of other liberal democracies or claim that the Basic Law is merely composed of symbolic declarations, enshrining into law longstanding holidays and symbols of state such as the flag and national anthem. Such arguments not only exhibit a callous disregard for the clearly articulated objections of Israel’s minority groups, they are also dismissive of the very real power that symbols hold in shaping national identity and group membership in ways which may exclude non-Jewish minorities. Arguments in favor of the Basic Law also fail to acknowledge the legal ramifications associated with the law and the context in which the bill was passed.


The law weakens the protections of individuals by introducing new legal hurdles to surmount when attempting to challenge prejudicial laws. According to Israeli law professors Eyal Benvenisti and Doreen Lustig, “Attempts to challenge discriminatory legislation would be answered by invoking the new Basic Law as conveying the ‘values of the State of Israel.” The Jewish Settlement clause, itself evolved from previous iterations of the law which would have sanctioned housing discrimination and segregation, has Israeli legal experts warning that the law “paves the way for acts ofWhy the Nations State Law is Bad for Minorites in Israel exclusion and racism against the Arab minority.” This provision compounds with existing discriminatory legislation such as the Admissions Committee Law in affect since 2011 which permits housing discrimination in small communities.


The passage of the Nation State Law coincides with other proposals which would undermined the independence of Israel’s judiciary and allow Israel’s parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions, as well as other recent legislative efforts to appropriate privately owned Palestinian land and apply the Israeli legal system directly into the West Bank, territory held under Israel military occupation since 1967. Taken together, these actions constitute a policy of creeping de-facto annexation of Palestinian lands that would effectively deny the Palestinian people a right to self-determination amidst an ongoing illiberal assault on anti-occupation and Pro-Palestinian activists and civil society.


Recent events leading up to Israeli elections have culminated in a mainstreaming of positions that advocate for annexation of most of the West Bank among the ruling Likud party. Of great concern is the political alliance Netanyahu forged with an extremist far right party whose leader is barred from entering the U.S. for his affiliation with the Kach party, banned in Israel and designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State. In a bid to protect his ruling coalition, Netanyahu has engineered an agreement with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, a reincarnation of the banned Kach party, to run on a single list with two other rightwing parties to ensure they pass the electoral threshold and serve in Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset. Virtually every member of Netanyahu’s Likud party has now declared their support for annexation of the West Bank and the Israeli Prime Minister actively empowers racists extremist, engineering their political ascent and embracing them as coalition partners. In addition to its support for annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, Otzma Yehudit’s platform calls “to remove the enemies of Israel from [the] country” which one of its senior leaders went on to clarify meant “the majority” of Israel’s Arab citizens.


Such events provide necessary context for understanding the political climate in which the controversial Nation State Law passed by slim majority into Israeli law. It is no coincidence that those who drafted the law ignored repeated calls to include references to equality and such facts confirm that the basic law should appropriately be viewed as an attempt to subordinate Israel’s minorities and obstruct their collective rights in a way which is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic principles.

Zachary Field is a recent graduate of Binghamton University where he majored in geography and Israel studies. He is also an alumnus of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Southern Israel and interned with the Justice for Palestine Committee in 2015