Why do we need a Nation State Law? For over 70 years, the state of Israel has been able to run its affairs successfully without the need for such a law. However, in recent years, we have witnessed a regression in the state’s Jewish values, once accepted as eternal.
In every constitutional democracy there are basic laws that deal with three main areas: national identity, governmental powers and human rights clauses. When Israel established its independence in 1948 it declared itself a Jewish national home but did not enshrine this in law. Israel subsequently sought to do this retroactively.
Much propaganda has been generated by Israel’s adversaries in relation to the Nation State Law. It is vital that we do not regurgitate these false claims.
The Nation State Law is a law that simply seeks to define and enshrine Israel’s national identity, in basic law (chapters of the Israeli constitution not yet completed). At the heart of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel is the fact that the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people.
Like any democratic nation state, the national identity includes symbols of the state, including the flag and the national anthem as well as the status of Jerusalem as the capital city, the national Jewish democratic character of the state, the relationship between the State and Diaspora Jewry and the Law of Return which was promised to all Jewish people upon the establishment of the state. The law addresses national expressions and not religious expressions and does not in any way change the current religious situation in the State of Israel.
There are those who seek to create a bi-national state in Israel and make Israel a state of all its citizens. However, the State of Israel was established as the nation-state of the Jewish people and wishes to remain so. Similar to other nation states, the State of Israel is not the nation-state of any of its minorities. The attempt to include equality in the Nation State Law is an attempt to change the character and values of the state. This law seeks to reject the efforts of those who want a bi-national state, or who seek to erase Jewish national recognition.
Similar to any democratic nation-state, the State of Israel grants its minorities and citizens individual and equal human rights, regardless of religion, race or gender. The State of Israel also recognizes certain and limited cultural rights for the minorities who live there such as a formal educational system in the Arabic language. However, there is a marked difference between the equality of individual rights and the full recognition of the national right to self-determination of non-Jewish minorities. The law makes a clear distinction between those who are entitled to exercise their natural right to self-determination in the land of Israel, that is the Jewish people, and those who cannot exercise their collective right to self-determination in Israel; any other nation who resides there as a minority.
Additionally, the Nation State Law does not seek to change the status of Arabic as a second language as it stands today (the Arabic language has never held the equivalent status to the Hebrew language in the State of Israel). Rather it recognizes that Hebrew is the official national language, a central feature of national identity. Israel is not a binational state and should not be viewed as a bilingual state.
The singular change is to Jewish settlement. The Nation State Law seeks to correct the current arrangement where Arabs can establish separate communal towns while Jews are prohibited from doing so. It endeavors to restore the situation to its original state.
In latter years, Israel’s Supreme Court has begun making decisions which negate the Jewish character of the state. Some Knesset members have in the past called for a change in the Israeli national anthem. Others question the importance of the Law of Return. Similar to all existing democratic nation states, Israel’s Nation State Law attempts to enshrine its national character into law and rein in any trend which aims to redefine its nationalism.
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