19 July 2018   Leave a comment

Israel has passed what is known as the Jewish Nation-State Law, a basic law which supersedes the Israeli Declaration of Independence (1948) and has the legal status comparable to that of a constitutional amendment in the US.  Here is the text of the law as published in the Jerusalem Post:

Basic Law: Israel – The nation state of the Jewish people

1.  The State of Israel

a) Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the state of Israel was established.
b) The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it actualizes its natural, religious, and historical right for self-determination.
c) The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

2.  National symbols of the State of Israel

a) The name of the state is Israel.
b) The flag of the state is white, two blue stripes near the edges, and a blue Star of David in the center.
c) The symbol of the state is the Menorah with seven branches, olive leaves on each side, and the word Israel at the bottom.
d) The national anthem of the state is “Hatikvah”
e) [Further] details concerning the issue of state symbols will be determined by law.

3. [The] unified and complete [city of] Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

4. The Language of the State of Israel

a) Hebrew is the language of the state.
b) The Arabic language has a special status in the state; the regulation of the Arab language in state institutions or when facing them will be regulated by law.
c) This clause does not change the status given to the Arabic language before the basic law was created.

5. The state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the gathering of the exiled.

6. The Diaspora

a) The state will labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people and its citizens who are in trouble and captivity due to their Jewishness or their citizenship.
b) The state will act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora.

7. The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.

8. The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the secular calendar will serve as an official calendar. The usage of the Hebrew calendar and of the secular calendar will be determined by law. 

9. National Holidays

a) Independence Day is the official holiday of the state.
b) The Memorial Day for those who fell in the wars of Israel and the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and heroism are official memorial days of the state.

10. Saturday and the Jewish Holidays are the official days of rest in the state. Those who are not Jewish have the right to honor their days of rest and their holidays. Details concerning these matters will be determined by law.

11. This Basic Law may not be altered except by a Basic Law that gained the approval of the majority of the Knesset members.

It is difficult to pin down exactly what this law does, but a comparison with the language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence is instructive.  The new law does seem to be inconsistent with these two passages in the Declaration:

“The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education, and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

“….we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and the representation in all its bodies and institutions, provisional or permanent.”

These two passages seem inconsistent with Clause 1(c) of the new law which reads: “The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”  There are two concerns.  First, by saying that the right of self-determination is unique to the Jewish people, questions are raised about non-Jews in Israel.  In 2017, there were 6,484,000 Jews in Israel/Palestine and 2,196,000 non-Jews.  Jews constitute 74.6% of the population of Israel.  But if one includes the population of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, the demographic mix changes.  If some political rights are reserved exclusively for Jews in Israel, then the country will ultimately be ruled by a minority if the Occupied Territories are annexed.  The relegation of the Arabic language to non-official status symbolizes some of the fears of non-Jews in Israel.

Population of Israel, State of Palestine and British Palestine by Religious Group: 1922-2035, in millions

The second concern is for non-Orthodox Jews. There are four movements in modern Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.  In Israel, most matters of faith are handled by the “Orthodox chief rabbinate over matters like marriage, conversion, and other aspects of personal and civil status”.  Non-Orthodox Jews, both in Israel and abroad, are worried that the new law will relegate them to second-class status.  This issue has been an ongoing debate in Israel for many years, and the new law may aggravate those tensions.

Another concern about the new law revolves around its endorsement of the settlement process in Point 7: “The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”  The settlement process has divided the Israelis from the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (which were occupied by Israel after the War in 1967).  The Palestinians regard the Occupied Territories as their homeland and the settlement process makes the possibilities for a viable Palestinian state virtually impossible.  The Israelis and Palestinians both endorsed the “Two-State Solution” in the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, but that objective was never realized and Israeli settlements have accelerated in recent years.  The world continues to regard the Occupied Territories in the light of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians (1949) which forbids the transfer of populations or permanent changes in occupied territories, but Israel no longer refers to the regions as “occupied”.  Given the decision of the US to recognize the entire city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it seems that the US no longer considers the two-state solution as an objective.

It is too soon to assess the full impact of the new law, but it seems clear that many ambiguous issues remain unresolved.  Nonetheless, the law has raised serious apprehensions among non-Jews in Israel and it is likely that it will be vigorously contested.

Posted July 19, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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