Senior Catholic leadership calls on government to rescind nation-state law

The nation-state law generated huge controversy since it ascribed national rights and certain values to Israel’s Jewish population, and failed to affirm the commitment of the state to equality for all citizens.

November 5, 2018 17:28
2 minute read.
Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018

Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JASON COHN)


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The most senior Catholic clergy in Israel on Sunday called for the government to rescind the Nation-State Law passed in July, describing it as “a blow” to the values of democracy while acknowledging that the legislation “changes very little in practice.”

The Basic Law states Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People and generated huge controversy for ascribing certain rights and values to the country’s Jewish population but failing to affirm the commitment of the state to promote equality for all citizens.

Proponents say no rights were negatively impacted by the law, and that equality for all citizens is laid out in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. They further argue that Israel’s Jewish character had never been delineated in law.

The Catholic clergy – including Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Israel Georges Bacouni, Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and Exarch of Jerusalem Moussa El-Hage, and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate Pierbattista Pizzaballa – argued in a joint statement, however, that the law provides a constitutional basis for infringing the rights of non-Jewish citizens in the future.

They said that when tensions in Israel have led to an emphasis of the country’s Jewish over its democratic character, it has led to discrimination against the Arab population.

The clergy objected in particular to the clause in the law promoting “Jewish settlement as a national value,” and what they described as the downgrading of Arabic in relation to Hebrew.

Proponents of the new law have argued that Arabic never enjoyed the status as a national language. They note that the legislation ascribes a “special status” to Arabic and that the law “does not harm the status given to the Arabic language” from before the passage of the law.

The church leaders wrote in their statement, “Although the law changes very little in practice, it does provide a constitutional and legal basis for discrimination among Israel’s citizens, clearly laying out the principles according to which Jewish citizens are to be privileged over and above other citizens.

“By promulgating ‘the development of Jewish settlement as a national value will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation,’ the law promotes an inherent discriminatory vision,” the statement continued.

The church leaders added that the law “totally ignores the fact that there is another people, the Palestinian Arabs, and other major religious communities, Christians and Muslims as well as Druze and Baha’i, that are profoundly rooted in this land,” and said all population groups in Israel demand to be treated as equal citizens.

“As Israelis and as Palestinian Arabs, we seek to be part of a state that promotes justice and peace, security and prosperity for all its citizens.

“This Basic Law contradicts the identifiable humanist and democratic strands in Israeli legislation as well as international laws and conventions to which Israel is signatory,” the senior clerics said. The statement concluded by calling on the government to rescind the Nation-State Law and “assure one and all that the State of Israel seeks to promote and protect the welfare and the safety of all its citizens.”

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