The new ‘Nation-State Law’ is a challenge to Israel’s democracy

A few hours ago the Knesset passed the ‘Nation-State Law’, the latest ‘basic law’ which forms Israel’s de facto constitution.

This dangerous new law dismantles Israel’s founding status as a homeland for the Jews and a democratic state for all its citizens, replacing it with a singular vision of Israel as a Jewish state.

It also sends a powerful message: non-Jews in Israel, some 20%+ of the population, are second-class citizens.

While the most troubling parts of the bill were stripped at the last moment – including a provision that would instruct judges to consider halacha when making rulings, and one that allowed for exclusive communities based on religion or ethnicity – its core message of exclusion still has significant impact.

Not only does the law remove Arabic’s status as an “official language” in Israel, it also makes no mention of Israel being a democracy.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, wrote:

Beginning with Israel's Declaration of Independence, the Jewish value of human dignity and the principle of the equality of all people have formed the democratic foundation of the state. This law has betrayed those values. It is a slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel. Legislation that identifies first- and second-class citizens has no place in a democracy.

NIF wasn’t alone in opposing this bill.

President Reuven Rivlin warned that parts of the bill would “harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel.” Labour leader and incoming chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac “Bougie” Herzog wrote that he “fully shares the grave concerns ... for the damage that this bill will cause to Israeli society and Israeli democracy.”

There is nothing wrong with Israel being a state for the Jewish people but that cannot come at the expense of its non-Jewish citizens.

Israel’s liberal democratic characteristics – its embrace of a pluralist society, upholding of democratic norms and value of individual rights – are integral parts of its society. Undermining them undermines Israel’s Zionist vision.

NIF is strident in its opposition to the effects of this harmful law and will be vigilant in ensuring it is not used to marginalise or discriminate against any Israeli citizen.

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