The 1948 independence declaration envisioned an Israel that would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
The new law will ensure that some citizens are more equal than others.
The law states that the Jewish people “have the unique right of national self-determination” in Israel. It declares Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel. It makes Hebrew the only official language of Israel, demoting Arabic to “special status” rather than an official language. And it elevates the notion of “Jewish settlement” in Israel.
The Jewish settlement clause is a compromise over a previous, highly contentious, clause which would have allowed the establishment of communities segregated by religion or ethnicity. The intent, critics argued, was to legalize the exclusion of Arabs from communities. The new clause does not speak of segregation. But it says the state “places national value on the development of Jewish settlement and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” Opponents say this change merely makes the racism overt. How could Jewish settlement be advanced without confining it to Jews?
The Nation-State law has been long in the making and has drawn sharp protest both at home and abroad. Israeli leftist groups and lawmakers and Arab MKs have consistently expressed outrage. But more mainstream voices, including Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin and Natan Sharansky, have also expressed dismay over the ultra-nationalism embodied in the bill. Leaders of Diaspora Jewry have lobbied against some of the bill’s provisions.
Professor Naomi Chazan, a former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, writes that the law “presents a narrow, introspective, exclusionary depiction of Israel at odds with the open vision of the country and its aspirations articulated by its architects 70 years ago.”
Peace Now has been front and centre in its opposition. The movement raised the alarm over the anti-democratic nature of the bill and led street protests against it. During the final Knesset debate on the bill, Peace Nowactivists hung a black flag from the spectators’ balcony, until security guards made them leave the room.
The contentious law has implications beyond the Green Line. There is the problematic declaration on Jerusalem, which would seem to negate any compromise on parts of the city as capital of a Palestinian state in an eventual two-state solution. Plus, the new law boosts the proponents of Jewish hegemony over the territories. An editorial in Ha’aretz asks:
“If the territories are annexed can Israel define itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people? Actually, yes, but only according to the school of thought of the “apartheidists” threatening to take over the Knesset because of the morally corrupt competition for the title of most extreme right-winger.”
Meanwhile, on the West Bank, the government continues its policies of creeping (or leaping) annexation. One of the latest controversies concerns West Bank Bedouin communities, including the village of Khan Al-Ahmar, which have been slated for demolition. The Israeli government plans to forcibly transfer the Bedouin members of the Jahalin tribe to Al Jabel, a village near the garbage dump in Abu Dis.
These moves violate Palestinian human rights. They are also a deliberate move by Israel’s right-wing government to harm prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Bedouin communities slated for demolition are located in an area east of Jerusalem known as E1. In order for a future Palestinian state to have contiguity, it must include E1. While emptying this region of Bedouin communities, the Israeli government is paving the way for building an extension of the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim.
Hagit Ofran, Co-director of the Peace Now‘s Settlement Watch project in Israel said, “They’re destroying Khan al-Ahmar because [the Israeli government] didn’t give them building permits. Now it turns out that the Israeli government has no problem with issuing permits for this land – just not to Palestinians.
Israel’s High Court of Justice has put a temporary freeze on the demolition. But the court’s ability to intervene in such cases might itself be in jeopardy. The Knesset just passed a new law limiting West Bank Palestinians’ access to the High Court. Administrative petitions will now be transferred to Jerusalem’s District Court instead. The law is meant to hamper Palestinian petitions against settlement construction in the West Bank.
Gloating over this move, justice minister Ayelet Shaked said: “The High Court petition party of Palestinians and extreme left organizations against the settlements in Judea and Samaria is over today.”
Peace Now, and its sister organizations in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, continue to ring alarm bells against the slide towards a single, non-democratic state. We continue to work for a two-state solution to maintain the Israel envisioned by its founders and beloved by Diaspora Jewry.