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Petition to HCJ: Repeal the Nation-State Law

Association for Civil Rights in Israel to High Court of Justice: Repeal the Nation-State Law

The petition states that the law worsens persistent damage to the democratic foundations of Israel, transforming ongoing institutional discrimination against the Arab minority into a national value.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel submitted yesterday, Sunday, December 23 2018, a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding the repeal of the Nation-State Law (legislated July 18, 2018). The petition, which attorneys Dan Yakir, Raghad Jaraisy, Sana Ibn Bari and Gil Gan-Mor prepared with the assistance of legal intern Reut Saer, charges that "the Nation-State Law does irreversible harm to equality and democracy, transforming the ongoing institutional discrimination against the Arab population in Israel from one based on policy and judgment to a guiding judicial principle enjoying special protection in the Basic Law."

Furthermore, the petition points out that the law neglects to refer to the State of Israel as a democracy and fails to recognize the status of the country's minorities whatsoever. Defining the character of the state is an important constitutional issue with far-reaching implications. When such fundamental issues are addressed there should be an attempt to reach a broad public consensus, while at the same time taking the rights and interests of the various communities in the population into consideration.

Moreover, the petition argues that the omission of a commitment to ensure the personal and collective rights of all citizens of the state is particularly conspicuous, especially given that the law does assign exclusive collective rights in Israel—first and foremost the right to self-determination—to Jewish citizens only.

The petition divides the law into two main groups: the first group consists of directives that shape and preserve the Jewish identity of the state in terms of national self-definition and symbols; the second group includes the law’s practical clauses that enable legislators to concretely and immediately interpret the declaration of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People.

These practical clauses include granting (only) Jews the right to national self-definition; defining Hebrew as the only official language of the country and demoting the Arabic language to a "special status"; and requiring the state to promote and actively encourage Jewish settlements as a national value, thus perpetuating and deepening the discrimination in allocation of lands and resources of the country.

The petition includes a comprehensive, broad, and historical review of the ongoing institutional discrimination against Israeli Arabs in all areas of life in Israel: education, lands and housing, budgets and grants. ACRI is of the opinion that the Nation-State Law will deepen and aggravate this existing institutional discrimination and, consequently, problematic policies and practices that the courts previously rejected will now become legal.

The petition also addresses the law’s disqualifying of the other Basic Laws, which carry constitutional status, and thus states that "the court must do its duty and defend the principles of democracy; it cannot do this without applying a judicial review of the legislated Basic Laws, and intervene in severe cases."

Overall, the petition argues that "The Nation-State Law anchors in the Basic Law the idea of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People. As a result, the law determines sweeping and offensive regulations at the symbolic, legal and practical levels; sharpens and intensifies the hierarchy in status between Jewish and Arab citizens in the country; and subordinates in a dangerous, unprecedented manner the principle of democracy to the Jewish character of the state, threatening the individual and collective human rights of all citizens and flagrantly violating the civil rights of the Arab minority."

On July 8, 2021, the High Court gave a ruling regarding the petition. The High Court refrained from ordering the repeal of the law, but provided an interpretation that largely emptied it of its racist consequences. The judge ruled in a minority opinion that it was appropriate that the three main sections of the law be repealed.


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