Israel's 'Nation State Law', Put Simply

By Blog Writer Aysedilan Ucar

Palestinian Protestor Ahed Tamimi was recently freed from an Israeli prison; this release comes after the Israeli parliament passed a controversial bill legally classifying Israel as a Jewish nation-state.  The new nation-state law passed by a vote of 62-55 after months of political debate. This development left many Arab politicians angry and frustrated due to the absence of any mention of equal rights for the Arab minority in Israel. Arab politicians voiced their concerns by waving black flags and ripping the bill, as many declare this a move away from democracy.  Others have stated that this new law follows in the footsteps of other oppressive laws such as the Jim Crow and Nuremberg Laws. Hence, upon release, Ahed Tamimi reassured the world that the resistance continues as this new bill positions itself in the Basic Laws, risking further discrimination of the Arab population.

The Basic Laws are the constitutional laws of the state of Israel and exist to protect ‘human dignity and liberty in order to anchor the values of the state of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state’. There is no explicit statement declaring the superiority of Basic Laws to ordinary Laws- however, many scholars argue that the notion of ‘Basic laws’ implies that they are constitutionally superior. The new law declares Hebrew as the official language, dropping Arabic to ‘special status’ to enable continued use in Israeli institutions. Furthermore, the new law announces Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel and states that the Jewish people have an exclusive right to national self-determination, rejecting the two-state solution which the European Union expressed support for. This new bill also asserts that Jewish settlements will be encouraged and made a priority for the Israeli state; the Arab inhabitants in Israel make up 20% of the population and approx. 30% of Jerusalem’s population, but many have been displaced. Many have argued that the passing of this bill serves to silence the voices of Palestinians demanding a two-nation state. However, many have also reiterated that the passing of this bill disconnects the Jewish diaspora from the state of Israel. 

Ironically, this bill contradicts Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which states that Israel "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."   

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Israeli Arab Joint List group, denounced this new development- arguing that this marked the death of democracy and established Jewish supremacy. In contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the passing of the bill as a ‘defining moment’ for the history of Israel and Zionism. It is reported that this bill was passed to make sure votes will not be lost to parties further to the right of the political spectrum, such as the Jewish home, in the upcoming election. After the bill was passed, the Druze citizens in Israel took to the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting the new law on the basis that it turns all the non-Jewish inhabitants into second-class citizens. Other Jewish politicians have stated that this law changes nothing, in an attempt to dismiss the protestors concerns. 

Nonetheless, many feel the passing of this law has undermined the basic principles of democracy and has opened gate ways for violations of human rights by the Israeli state.

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