+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Israel's Nation-State Law: 'Apartheid is a process'

With the passage of the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law,’ Israel has constitutionally enshrined discrimination against its Palestinian population. ‘We don’t have to keep looking for policies that resemble Jim Crow,’ says Attorney Fady Khoury.

Israeli soldiers watch Palestinian women walk towards Qalandiya checkpoint, West Bank, August 20, 2010. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers watch Palestinian women walk towards Qalandiya checkpoint, West Bank, August 20, 2010. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Israeli parliament passed the “Jewish Nation-State Law” in the early hours of Thursday morning, defining Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people and demoting the official status of Arabic.

Almost immediately, Palestinian politicians and rights groups began speaking of the legislation in the starkest of terms. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said the law “turns a ‘de-facto’ Apartheid regime into a ‘de-jure’ reality for all of historic Palestine.

Hassan Jabareen, head of the Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the law “features key elements of apartheid” and that by passing it, Israel has “made discrimination a constitutional value and has professed its commitment to favoring Jewish supremacy as the bedrock of its institutions.”

According to Adalah attorney Fady Khoury, the legislation entrenches the identity of the State of Israel as a state for the Jewish people, turning them into the sovereign while excluding the Palestinian population from the same definition of sovereignty.

“The law itself does not mention the word democracy even once,” Khoury explained. “Psychologically, it will have a huge impact on Israelis when they are called to determine what it or isn’t democratic.”

+972 Magazine spoke with Khoury to better understand the apartheid comparison, and why the law is so problematic in general.

[The following interview has been edited for length and flow.]

 People are calling this the ‘apartheid law.’ Why?

“Apartheid in South Africa was a process. It was a system that took years to develop and was built on the work of academics and theologians who had to create justifications for white supremacy. It was system of hierarchy, in which there is one group with all the power and another without any power.

“In Israel, the new law explicitly defines the Jewish people as the only group with the only right to self-determination, while negating the rights of the indigenous people. This creates a system of hierarchy and supremacy. We do not live in a time in which explicit calls for supremacy are legitimate as they were in South Africa, but we are reaching the same result through different language.

Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. A beach for Whites only near the integrated fishing village of Kalk Bay, not far from Capetown. January 1, 1970. (UN Photo/KM)

Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. A beach for Whites only near the integrated fishing village of Kalk Bay, not far from Capetown. January 1, 1970. (UN Photo/KM)

“The analogy between Israel and South Africa is not only about separate communities or roads, it is about a state of mind. It is about the idea of ranking different groups. It is the idea of a regime of supremacy that serves the interests of one group, even if it comes at the expense of the most basic rights of another. We don’t have to keep looking for policies that resemble Jim Crow — that mindset exists not only in the periphery of Israeli politics but also in the mainstream.”

The original wording of the bill included a clause that allowed for communities to be segregated along religious or ‘national’ lines. What does the final version say about segregation?

“The previous version of the bill included a clause that allowed the state to authorize new communities based on religion or nationality. It was based on the principle of ‘separate but equal,’ which was couched in the idea that doing so would be good for everybody — Jews or Palestinians. The language was changed since it was too close to the kind of blatant segregation we have seen in the U.S. They rewrote the clause so that the state would ‘promote Jewish settlement.’ This creates a whole different kind of paradigm for segregation, one of “separate but unequal.”

A new portion of the Separation Wall, made by a high barbed wire fence in the West Bank village of Walajeh, with at the background the growing settlement of Gilo, March 18, 2018. (Anne Paq/Activetsills.org)

A new portion of the Separation Wall, made by a high barbed wire fence in the West Bank village of Walajeh, with at the background the growing settlement of Gilo, March 18, 2018. (Anne Paq/Activetsills.org)

“Think about it this way: imagine if the United States passed legislation that promoted ‘white settlement’ — we would cringe. But after 70 years of a Jewish and democratic state, the idea of Jewish settlement has become so mundane that it does not seem problematic. In that sense, the change is cosmetic. But what the right wants to achieve is the same: Judaizing the country while incentivizing building communities for Jewish citizens only.”

What are the potential effects this law could have on the legal system?

“This is a law that will determine the state’s constitutional identity. Up until now, it was the role of the Supreme Court to interpret what the phrase ‘Jewish and democratic’ really meant. Now we have a law that grants the state’s Jewish identity constitutional status.”

“[The law] will be foundational. It becomes a source of interpretation of the laws and the legal system. The ramifications are not going to be limited to a few areas: they are going to affect the legal system at the root, especially if the right continues to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which will use this new constitutional norm to interpret the law.”

Is the new law an acceleration of a process that has been taking place here recently, or does it enshrine a discriminatory regime that has always existed here?

“I think we are seeing an escalation that did not begin with the new Basic Law, but rather is a result of the contradiction between the fundamental identities of the state as Jewish and democratic. What we are seeing now is Jewish identity encroaching more and more on the social and political life of Israel’s citizens, while the ‘democratic’ identity of the state is experiencing a regression.”

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. Bruce Gould

      The significance of the ‘Jewish Nation State Law’ is its ambiguity, its vagueness – it can be interpreted almost any way. Suppose you’re an Israeli Palestinian applying for a building permit – sorry, buddy, this is a JEWISH state.

      Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordin Halevy

      It is not apartheid. It is a Jewish country where minorities can live in peace if they respect our laws and our sovereignty.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        So there are minorities who can be Israeli citizens, but can’t be sovereigns of Israel?

        Right. And how is that not Apartheid?

        And explain to me again how someone can be a Brooklyn Jew – one who has no intention of ever seeking Israeli citizenship – yet he/she is a sovereign of Israel.

        Shouldn’t that person also get a vote on this?

        Because it does look like the Knesset is being mighty presumption in claiming the right to cast a vote on his behalf (and for his “benefit”) even though the members of the Knesset are only voted in by Israeli citizens.

        When did Bibi become King Of The Jews?

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          It is a law voted democratically by the Knesset. The Arab party, the third force in the country, participated in the vote. I remind you that the Arabs have their deputies, that they enjoy the same rights as other Israelis in the field of health, justice etc. and that they have soldiers in the army. What do you want more. No minority enjoys such rights in any Arab-Muslim country. Israel is the State of the Jewish People. What is shocking to that?

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            None of those explanations actually address my two questions. So I’ll repeat them:

            1) According to this law non-Jews can be citizens of the state of Israel but not sovereigns of Israel, whereas Jews can be citizens of Israel AND sovereigns of Israel. How Is That Not Apartheid?
            2) According to this law the Knesset has “granted” Israeli sovereignty to Jews who are not citizens of Israel. What gives the Knesset the right to claim to represent those diaspora Jews?

            My answers are these:
            1) It is Apartheid
            2) The Knesset does not represent diaspora Jews and has no authority to speak on their behalf.

            But you? All you are doing is spout slogans.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I’ve heard Halevy repeat this creepy Orwellian phrase, “minorities can live in peace if they respect our laws and our sovereignty,” about fifty times now. But he’s never been willing to say more about it, to explicate it, to explain how it really works, to defend it. He just keeps trotting out the same mysterious, creepy phrase.

        Let’s see if Halevy will make any attempt to explain it and defend it by responding to the questions asked. Can Halevy demonstrate any credibility?

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          What I say is obvious that needs no explanation. Even a child can understand it

          Reply to Comment
      • David


        The entity known as “Israel” is neither a state nor a country, i.e., it has yet to officially declare its borders and have them agreed to as such by the international community.

        Reply to Comment
      • David

        To be brief:
        The entity known as “Israel,” i.e., west of the green line, is and always has been an ethnocracy, i.e., a political structure in which the state apparatus is appropriated by a dominant ethnic group to further its interests, power and resources. In short, apartheid.

        To wit:
        Hendrik Verwoerd, then prime minister of South Africa and the architect of South Africa’s apartheid policies, 1961: “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” (Rand Daily Mail, November 23, 1961)

        Jacobus Johannes Fouché, South African Minister of Defence during the apartheid era, compared the two states and said that Israel also practiced apartheid. (Gideon Shimoni (1980). Jews and Zionism: The South African Experience 1910-1967. Cape Town: Oxford UP. pp. 310–336. ISBN 0195701798.

        “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons. ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”
        EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in ISRAEL [my emphasis] and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.” (Times of Israel, February 21, 2013)

        Video: Israeli TV Host Implores Israelis: Wake Up and Smell the Apartheid

        In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, published in 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.” (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

        The entity known as “Israel” also differentiates between citizenship and nationality, i.e., “Israeli” nationality does not exist, only Jews and non-Jews, and each citizen carries an appropriate identity card. While the implications of this absurdity for discrimination and racism against non-Jews are obvious, it has been upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      One more little detail that shows in what direction things are sliding – what do the Druze think?


      A former Labor Party legislator, Shakeeb Shnaan, a member of Israel’s small, Arabic-speaking Druze community, whose men are drafted for compulsory service in the military, pleaded emotionally for the bill’s defeat….“The state of Israel is my country and my home, and I have given it what is most dear to me, and I continue, and I will continue, to serve it with love,” he said, before adding: “The nationality law is a mark of Cain on the forehead of everyone who votes for it.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Moral Person

      The Apartheid law makes it clear that the state of Israel is now entirely based on racism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. It has rejected all Jewish values.

      The apartheid state of Israel and its immoral leaders are now the greatest threat to Judaism and to Jewsish people world wide. Righteous Jewish people must leave and reject the apartheid state, to preserve the true Jewish people.

      The apartheid state will, at best, self-destruct. At worst it will become the successor to Hitler, but acting in the name of “Jews”. Righteous Jewish people must reject it, just as the few righteous Germans rejected Hitler, and just as the righteous rejected corrupt leaders in the Torah.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Hello

      This law confirms the symbol on the nation’s flag as the 666 Hexagon, the most powerful symbol in witchcraft and Kabbalah. The Hexagon will help summon the Anti-Christ (Satan) to live in the Third Temple in the Time to Come. This law is a preview of how Israel will treat the people of more conquered land as it continues toward controlling The Land of Israel from Kuwait to Cypress and from Turkey to Sinai.

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        In historical terms, today’s “Israel” will prove to be less than a blip.

        “Israel’s global standing is continuing to deteriorate, a new report from some of the country’s top strategists concludes.”

        “’Israel’s image in Western countries continues to decline, a trend that enhances the ability of hostile groups to engage in actions aimed at depriving Israel of moral and political legitimacy and launch boycotts,’ ” the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University states in its 2016-2017 Strategic Survey for Israel.

        “The 275-page report, authored by a who’s who of figures from Israel’s political, intelligence and military establishment, was presented on Monday to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin by INSS director Amos Yadlin, a former air force general and head of Israeli military intelligence.”

        Newsweek– 5/10/18
        “Israel celebrates its 70th birthday in May with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Yet the country is grappling with an existential crisis—one that doesn’t involve Iranian nukes or Palestinian protests. Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves, trying to build their lives elsewhere, mostly in the United States. Many of these young Israelis are moving to big cities, and yet, even in these often expensive places, they see more opportunities to advance.”

        “The available data is telling, analysts say. Between 2006 and 2016, more than 87,000 Israelis became U.S. citizens or legalized permanent residents, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That’s up from 66,000 between 1995 and 2005. These figures take into account only those who took the legal route (many Israelis, analysts say, arrive on temporary tourist, student or work visas, then stay). And in addition to the Israelis now living stateside, according to the country’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, hundreds of thousands have moved to Europe, Canada and elsewhere.”

        “According to government data, 8 percent of Israelis work in high-tech, which pays up to seven times the national average salary of $2,765 a month (before taxes). Israel has one of the highest poverty rates and levels of income inequality in the Western NEWSWEEK world. Meanwhile, it also has one of the highest costs of living. Tel Aviv ranks ninth among the world’s most expensive cities, higher than New York and Los Angeles; five years ago, it ranked 34th. The situation is so dire that a 2013 survey by the financial newspaper Calcalist (the most recent Israeli study conducted on this topic) found that 87 percent of adults—many with children of their own—depend on substantial financial support from their parents.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Yes David. The State of Israel with 7 million Jewish inhabitants, a mean total fertility rate of 3.1 (the highest in any developed country), a per capita GDP now ahead than France, Japan or the UK will disappear in the near future.
          Carry on believing that, David, if it makes you feel better.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/05/will-israel-live-to-100/303896/

            “Will Israel Live To 100?” (from 2005)

            “At some level most perceptive Israelis seem to grasp these future existential dangers. In fact, in conversations with Israelis on the left and the (moderate) right in academe, the military, the government, and the security services, I’ve been struck by their grim declarations that they as a people aren’t going anywhere, but also by their foreboding about the country their children will live in.”

            One of the reasons the Knesset passed the Jewish Nation State Law is precisely that Jewish leaders have doubts.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Yes, you go back to 2005 to dig out some obscure article in a leftist mag to “prove” your hypothesis.
            How about looking at GDP per capita for the latest pusblished year (2017).

            If anything, these figures understate Israel’s economic prowess because:
            1. Our huge Mediterranean gas reserves will only fully come on board in 2019
            2. Our debt (private, corporate, bank & sovereign) is lower than most developed states.
            3. Our demographic profile is young and not facing a pension crisis like other developed states.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: When you say the Atlantic is an obscure leftist mag you’re making stuff up.
            But the larger point is that no one claims the problem with Israel is it’s GDP; that’s not the issue.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            So what is the issue ?
            Why will Israel disappear in the near future ?
            Demographic doom ?
            Our total fertility rate is 3.1 kids per family. Our longevity is withing the top 10 in the World. In a recent survey, we were 11th happiest in the World according to one survey.

            Because of Occupation ?
            Well, its too late. There are 300,000 Jews in East Jerusalem and 450,000 in Judea and Samaria. These numbers are far too big & expensive to move, assuming any Israeli Government will ever want to do it (another impossibility).

            Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordin Halevy

          From 2006 to 2016, there were between 27,000 to 40,000 new immigrants per year. Having two sons working in high technology, I can assure you that he earns several times a month the amount of 2800 US $. According to an OECD study, Israelis are the happiest citizens in the countries that make up this organization. According to the latest US news and World report, Israel is the eighth world power. Our unemployment is close to 0 with a lack of manpower in certain professions. We are No. 1 in high technology, agriculture and medicine. In 2017, we were the 5th largest arms exporter in the world. Our birth rate is equal to that of the Arabs in the pre-67 lines. In some parts of Judea and Samaria our birth rate is twice that of our neighbors. This means that in 25 to 30 years, Jews will be the majority in the territories liberated in 1967.So everything is fine for us

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Halevy: Israeli ranks number 11 not number 1 on that list of “happiness.” Did you accidentally leave off a “1” when you were writing “11”? The arms export statistic is scarcely something to brag about. It shows a twisted, amoral worldview that one comes on +972 Magazine to trumpet this statistic after all the articles about how Israel is supplying brutal, racist dictatorships and even in defiance of US policy towards those same countries.

            Halevy, you’ve got one million Haredim, 15% of the Israeli Jewish population. That will increase to more than 30% by 2030 and to 40% by 2040. Half of Haredi men don’t work and have no skills and no modern ecucation. That adds up to a low unemployment rate only if you count these men out because they are not looking for work. But that is its own problem.

            Statistics as lies aside, you reveal your true intentions with “in 25 to 30 years, Jews will be the majority in the territories.” What you really mean is that you intend to prolong the occupation for another thirty or fifty years or so of apartheid. Some of us object to that as you know and find it implausible, simply unsustainable. It’s a curious idea, strategically. So in 2048 Jews will supposedly produce the baby that makes the number of Jews equal to the number of Palestinians between the river as the sea? And you’ll have, what?, carried on apartheid for all that while and everything will be fine? And once you supposedly reach 50.01 % everything will be glorious? I think you are telling yourself fairy tales. To my mind you inhabit a far right wing fantasy world, Halevy, with blithe dismissal of the time bomb inside the well-oiled machine. The more you come out of the closet and stop hiding behind gnome-like Orwellian pronouncements and spell things out, the clearer it becomes how weird is your vision.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Click here to load previous comments