New Knesset bill aims to have “Jewish nature” of state preferred over democracy, cancel official status of Arabic, and have Jewish law “guide” courts’ rulings
There is one talking point repeated in every hasbara (the Hebrew term for state sponsored propaganda) talk given by an Israeli representative, or in every booklet your campus’ Jewish Agency representative might hand you. It has to do with “the full rights” of Palestinian citizens in Israel, including the status of Arabic as an official language, and the equality of all Israeli citizens under the law. This is the heart of “the only democracy in the Middle East” claim.
Those who are familiar with Israeli society, know that Arab citizens are discriminated against in many ways: Some of these ways are formal—like the new bill allowing segregated communities; the law against family unification of Arab citizens; the absentees’ property laws, and more—while other are a matter of practice, such as the fact that some government agencies won”t hire Arabs, or the that the courts mete out harsher sentences to Arab citizens convicted of the same crimes as Jewish citizens.
Yet a new bill, signed by members of opposition and coalition alike, aims to strip Israel even of the appearance of democracy. If passed (it has a fair chance), this law will determine that in any case of contradiction between democratic values and the Jewish nature of the state, the Jewish element will prevail. More specifically, the bill aims to cancel the status of Arabic as one of Israel’s two official languages; it orders the state to develop communities for Jews only; and in a passage that seems to be taken from the Iranian constitution, declares that when there is no law referring to a certain case, courts should rule in the spirit of halakha, or Jewish religious jurisprudence.
The bill, initiated by MKs Avi Dichter (Kadima ), Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), and supported by 20 of the 28 Kadima MKs, would make democratic rule subservient to the state’s definition as “the national home for the Jewish people.”
The legislation, a private member’s bill, won support from Labor, Atzamaut, Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union lawmakers.
Sources at the Knesset say the law currently has broad support, and they believe it will be passed during the Knesset’s winter session.
The bill is meant to pass a “basic law”—Israel’s substitute for a constitution—and will require a special majority to change it in the future.
People were concerned about the Boycott Law, which aimed to eliminate one of the most well known methods of opposition to the occupation, or by the Nakba Law, which prohibits certain institutions from marking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. But this new bill takes the game to a whole new level, by formally making 20 percent of Israel’s citizens—a native population that predates the state—as second class citizens. They won’t be segregated in the way blacks were in the South or in South Africa (yet?), but Israel won’t even pretend to be their state anymore, and they will have even fewer rights than Jewish citizens. Israel will truly become, to use a phrase by Ahmad Tibi, “a Jewish democracy: Democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for everyone else.”
What will the hasbara army do then?