On Sunday 23rd November the Israeli cabinet voted 14-7 to pass a new basic law defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. The bill which will now have its first reading in the Knesset , would enshrine in a basic law the “Jewish nature” of the state and explicitly reserve “national rights” for the Jewish population of Israel only. The bill would further institutionalize Jewish religious law as inspiration for legislation and judiciary systems and designate Hebrew as the sole official language of the state, demoting Arabic to “special status.”
The proposed bill would create a framework through which all legislation would be interpreted and shape the nature of future law. Under this law governmental departments would be obliged to allocate national resources and state budgets towards serving Jewish interests and furthermore all symbols of the state and national holidays would be Jewish. In lieu of a constitution, Israel’s basic laws have de-facto constitutional status making it very difficult for the Supreme Court to challenge. If passed by the Knesset, this law would limit the power of the Supreme Court to dismiss future laws which are un-democratic, thus restricting independent judicial oversight of the governance system and give a green light for future racist legislation.
Opponents of the bill include the Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein who claimed that it weakens the democratic character of the state by separating the term "Jewish and democratic state" into two separate clauses. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have also argued that the bill is undemocratic, with Lapid claiming that the bill puts the Jewish state before democracy.
The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) believes that for the Palestinian minority in Israel who constitute 20% of the population, this bill, which provides no obligation for the state to ensure the equal civil rights of “non-Jewish” citizens, would mean the legitimization of the widespread discrimination they already currently face. The legislation would reinforce the discriminatory hierarchy which sees the Palestinian minority undermined in the workforce, the social sphere and at governmental level and subjected to racist abuse. It would further provide legal justification for government ministries to “prioritize” the allocation of land, housing and resources for Jewish interests and would prepare the ground for the passing of future legislation promoting Jewish interests to the detriment of basic citizen rights for all citizens. The HRA believes that this law legalises discrimination based on religion and national belonging and will prevent any possibility for protecting the universal principles of equality which constitute the basis for any democracy.
The HRA is appealing to Embassies and representatives of diplomatic missions in Israel, including the EU, to take a clear and firm public opinion against such legislation, and use all existing channels of diplomatic communication and bi-lateral relationships, including the EU-Israel Association Agreement, to prevent the passing of this discriminatory law.
Our appeal is based on the belief that the international community has a moral and legal responsibility towards protecting universal human rights and preventing the violation of basic citizen and minority rights. This is in accordance with universal values that prevent any kind of discrimination based on colour, sex, religion, ethnicity or