Knesset Passed the Nation-State Bill
Discussions in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation was completed on Tuesday 18th July in the morning hours, and later on, the discussion and votes in the plenum were held on Wednesday 19th July at night.
1. Jewish / democratic character of the State. The general message in the law that the state is Jewish and for the Jews only. The debate over the various clauses conceal the real problem: it is a law that does not address minorities whatsoever, neither their collective nor individual rights. In fact, the law makes evident to all non-Jews that they are second-class citizens in the country, in particular the indigenous Arab minority that constitutes 20% of the country’s citizens.
2. The law determines the nature and character of the state, and thus constitutes a preamble of any future Israeli constitution, structured into chapters of the various Basic Laws. The law omits mention of any commitment to democracy or human rights. In effect, the law grossly violates the balance established in the accepted designation of the state as Jewish and democratic. The expression “Jewish and democratic” was completely removed from the law in return for not subjecting the interpretation of the law to the Jewishness of the state, however defined. Furthermore, there is no mention Israel as a democracy whatsoever, or a reference to the democratic institutions that are supposed to guarantee democracy, or a commitment to the human rights of the individual, including equality.
3. The Basic Laws constitute the constitution in Israel. Therefore, the constitution should have been made by broad consensus, in cooperation and in defense of all citizens and residents. Rather, the majority created a reckless law which harms all kinds of minorities – first and foremost Arab citizens but also any sector that disagrees with government’s worldview; political opponents, women, LBGTQ, non-orthodox Jews, etc.
4. This week was added the formulation that the realization of the right to self-determination also stems from a religious prerogative. This adds to the emphasis on the religious characteristics of the state.
5. Arabic language – has been downgraded to a language with only a “special status.” For fear that the Court broadly interprets this clause because of the special status of the Arabs in the State of Israel as an indigenous minority and as a large minority, the government added an amendment whereby the meaning / content of the language with a special status will be determined only by law. That is to say, even though the Arabs constitute 20% of the citizens of Israel and are an indigenous minority, the law does not recognize their most basic right to language. To note, language use is not simply a cultural matter, but enables Arab citizens to realize their lives and rights.
6. Separate settlements – following arguments over the wording of the clause, the section that determined separation between communities in the settlements was replaced by a new section that states that Jewish settlement in Israel is a national value and that the state must promote it. This is a discriminatory clause, which asserts that because of national belonging the Jewish population has priority in land settlement and housing over the Arab population.
7. Jewish law – the Jewish Home political party demanded that Jewish law be inserted, but in the end was not. Instead, it was advanced in a parallel legislation in the form of an amendment to the law on Legal Foundations. This is not a Basic Law and, furthermore, the final version does not give Jewish law precedence. Rather, it is an additional source from which one can draw inspiration. Nevertheless, the underlying premise of this change adds to the ethos of Nation-State Bill, in which the Jewish character of the state takes precedence over its democratic character.