Israel Passes ‘Jewish Nation State’ Bill

Israel has passed a controversial new law that formalizes the “Jewish Nation State” but that critics say is racist and a precursor to systematic discrimination.

The law, called “The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People, declares that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”. 

Pushed through by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government on Thursday, the legislation also states among its 11 provisions that Hebrew is now considered the official language of Israel while Arabic is given a “special status”. Arab-Israelis make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

In what has now become somewhat typical of Israel’s uncompromising, and some would argue antagonistic, stance under the Netanyahu government, the legislation further stipulates that Jerusalem is the “complete and united…capital of Israel.” Jerusalem is also claimed by Palestine as part of its own religious and social heritage, something that Israel has denied.

Among the legislation’s other commitments are promises to develop Jewish communities. While there isn’t a particular clause that stipulates these will be developed at the expense of Palestinian settlements, critics believe this is Netanyahu’s right wing government attempting to action further land clearing at the expense of Palestinian communities.

CNN notes that much of the law is symbolic rather than proactive, meaning that it is essentially codifying things that are already common practice for this government. However, as commentators have noted, the real and potentially harmful power in the legislation is how it defines Israeli citizens while leaving out Arab Israelis and by simply erasing Palestinians as though the two state issue is settled.  The fact that the landmark law also contains no protection for minority rights or guarantees of equality—two key tenets of Israel’s founding Independence—has also been a source of concern.

One other important detail is that the law now enters into Israel’s cannon of laws that are considered foundational. Such laws have never been overturned by the Israeli courts, and that means any legal challenge to this law is already on the back-foot.

President Netanyahu released a statement following the bill’s passage, characterizing this as a landmark moment for the Israeli people that, contrary to these criticisms, respects the rights of all citizens. The BBC quotes him as saying, “A hundred and twenty-two years after [the founder of modern Zionism Theodore] Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens.”

Arab Israelis are joined by centrist and leftists alike in denouncing the law as racist and at odds with basic human rights standards.

The New York Times reports that veteran lawmaker Ahmad Tibi declared the legislation as “The end of Democracy” and “The official beginning of fascism and apartheid.”

International voices have also similarly condemned this move, with the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini saying, “We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context. We’ve been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution, we believe it is the only way forward and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided.”

Does This New Law Officially Legalize Discrimination?

There are parts of this law that certainly are discriminatory, particularly its relegating Arab-Israeli’s to a lesser status. Even on a plain reading without knowing any of Israel’s political history or current stances, that seems like a fair interpretation.

Human rights commentators say it is the breadth of the law, though, that may ultimately be the problem. By enshrining what is essentially Jewish privilege in Israel’s laws, there is scope to systematically strip Arab-Israeli’s of their recognition and rights, while further blocking all criticism of Israel’s actions as being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel—something that has already seen human rights workers deported from Israel.

While this law therefore doesn’t technically create any new discriminatory stances, it further fuel tensions with Israel’s minorities, as well as with Palestine. Ultimately, the law seems set to lead to more unrest, civil rights abuses and, even, bloodshed.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson7 months ago

Thank you.

Cindy S
Past Member 9 months ago


Ben O
Ben O9 months ago

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

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Winn A9 months ago


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Janis K
Janis K9 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Lisa M9 months ago


Kathy G
Kathy G9 months ago

Thank you