[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he contentious “Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People” legislation has been passed by the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, with a 62-55 backing and 2 abstentions. The legislation passed as a “basic law”, grants it a quasi-constitutional status, hence leaving it open to a challenge at the Supreme Court of Israel. Presented as a “defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel” by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, it raises contentions due to its drafting which prima facie seems exclusionary and has been likened to an “apartheid regime” by its critics.
It holds the right to exercise self-determination within the State of Israel as “unique to the Jewish people” and states Israel to be the “historical homeland” and “national home” of Jewish people. The legislation also lays down that the state shall “act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people” and “views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”. These provisions notably contain no mention of the Palestinian and other non-Jewish resident citizens of Israel which amount to 20% of the nation’s total population and includes the 1.5 million Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Further, these express declarations appear as a step by the Right aligned Jewish Government to reiterate its stance of not ceding ground to Palestinian self determination, in addition to the ongoing State sanctioned colony expansions.
In light of Netanyahu’s statements preceding the passing of the legislation such as “we will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel’s democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides,” and “an absolute majority wants to ensure our state’s Jewish character for generations to come”, the law posits a discriminatory legal regime establishing a two tiered social hierarchy, with non-Jewish citizens being relegated as second class citizens. This problem is further exacerbated given the fact that none of the other foundational “Basic Laws” operative as Israel does not have a written constitution, guarantee equality before law.
Further, the legislation also establishes Hebrew as the State’s official language, reducing Arabic to a language with a “special status”, with its use in state institutions being regulated by law. This is demonstrative of a restrictive approach to the language of the non-Jewish populace which constitutes the minority.
The law’s passing was met with widespread furore within the Knesset. Palestinian lawmakers shouted and tore up papers, a few of whom were ejected by security. Proponents of the law equated it to provisions present in various Western democratic constitutions, which provide for an official language and national character that reflective of the majority population, even though they accommodate minority communities.