The likely passage of the nation-state bill is the most important Zionist development to be inserted into Israel’s lawbooks since the Law of Return was passed in 1950. The new bill, which makes the Jewish character of the state a national value that can be enforced in various ways, restores the old and proper balance between the rights of the individual and the patriotic values of Israel as the only national home of the Jewish people.
Some say that Israel’s Jewish character is self-evident. They say that a bill that makes it official just antagonizes Israeli Arabs and the international community, noting that it simply states the obvious. In the song “Do You Love Me?” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye the milkman and his wife Golde discovered that their love must be reinforced despite it being obvious. Moreover, that very fact that some people in Israel are against proclaiming that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people underscores the need to make it more obvious.
The very fact that foreign ministries of certain Western countries and various groups in leading universities around the world consider Zionism to be a form of racism means that the nation-state bill says something that is anything but self-explanatory. The nation-state bill sends an important and timely message – that Israelis are all-in when it comes to the Zionist idea of having a Jewish national home and are willing to set it in stone through a basic law. Since Israel’s basic laws are its de facto constitution, the definition of Israel as a nation-state will now be at the pinnacle of Israeli law.
The nation-state bill fills a void when it comes to Israel’s relations with the Jewish diaspora. People have been lamenting that Israelis and young Jews around the world no longer share a strong bond. A new basic law that details Israel’s Zionist underpinnings as a state for all Jews will serve to renew the covenant between the Jews here and abroad and will bolster the ties between the two groups.
But above all, the new bill’s main audience is Israel’s judiciary, which has consistently eroded the state’s Jewish character through various rulings.
Israel’s Jewish character was once considered a legal consensus, but lately, judges no longer seem to accept this. In 1965, then Supreme Court President and civil liberties giant Shimon Agranat ruled that Israel is not just a democracy that espouses freedom and human rights; it is also a Jewish state because of the Jewish people’s natural right on the land. Agranat disqualified a party from competing in the general election because its candidates rejected Israel’s Jewish character.
But today courts are struggling to uphold Israel’s Jewish values. When the justices deliberate on family reunification of 130,000 Palestinians, and when they deal with the massive influx of illegal migrants from Africa, they render rulings that are based on values such as security and sovereignty and individual rights. They have no legal foundation to issue rulings that cite the state’s Jewish character and the need to preserve it. That is because Israel’s basic laws currently deal extensively with governance and personal freedoms but make no clear statement that guarantees Israel’s national character.
Thus, the nation-state bill sends a Zionist message to the Israeli public on both sides of the political divide; it sends a clear message to backers and detractors of Israel abroad; it provides a strong embrace for our brethren abroad; and it creates a Zionist legal revolution that would restore the welcome equilibrium between the rights of the individual and Israel’s character as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
This article was originally published in Yisrael Hayom.