What’s wrong with the Jewish nation state law?

The bill was born following a protracted, continuous erosion of the unique status of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.

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December 1, 2014 22:50
3 minute read.
People carry Israeli flags during a Jerusalem Day march in the capital.

People carry Israeli flags during a Jerusalem Day march in the capital.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The values of Israel as a Jewish State have a legal standing that is above constitutional status. They affect the definition of all the fundamental laws and have an impact on the constitutionality of all the laws. They affect the interpretation of all legal texts. For example, it is accepted that all of Knesset Law and any order of the government are meant to bring to fruition the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Who wrote this text? Miri Regev? Yariv Levin? Ze’ev Elkin? Ayelet Shaked? In fact, these words were written in 2004 by former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak, in his book Being a Judge in A Democratic Society (page 89).

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I found the Barak quote when I was reviewing explanatory material on the “Basic Law – Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” bill, proposed in August 2011 by former minister and Knesset member Avi Dichter, member of the Kadima Party, then headed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Signed on to that proposed legislation together with Dichter were many Knesset members from the Labor and Kadima parties, such as Shaul Mofaz, Nachman Shai, Meir Sheetrit, Einat Wilf, Shai Hermesh, Ronit Tirosh as well as the Druse MK Hamad Hamar.

I felt the need to do this review because during the past week, I have been trying to determine what exactly are the points of contention with regard to the new “Nationality Law” bill. What has brought about this new political clash, causing the justice minister to employ apocalyptic terms such as “destroying the country” to describe the supporters of the bill? What has caused Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to use the imaginative and fascinating argument that the proposed law would “squash the democratic character of the state”? I took the previous bill of Dichter’s and the new one of MKs Yariv Levin and Ayelet Shaked and went over them paragraph by paragraph. I couldn’t find a shred of difference between them. Most of the paragraphs are even phrased identically, word by word.

I again went over the press publications of the past few days to try and find an explanation for such strong objections to the bill that went beyond the empty slogans of racism and discrimination, etc. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single proper explanation of what the supposedly ruinous consequences of this bill will actually be; what principles of Israeli law or the Declaration of Independence it would violate.

The bill was born following a protracted, continuous erosion of the unique status of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Basic phrases of the Declaration of Independence defining the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic began to take a beating when extremist groups called for turning the state into a “state for all its citizens.”

Even those that viewed themselves as Zionists wanted to reduce and even sharply shrink the Jewish side of the “Jewish and democratic” equation. The legal system almost completely ignored Jewish law, which judges were and are required to take into consideration.

The Netanyahu government decided at the beginning of its term to enact the Nationality Law. The proposed legislation states that the Jewish character of the State of Israel and the democratic nature of the state will be considered equally, with the individual rights of all citizens being strictly upheld.

Justice Minister Livni, and no one else, headed the Ministers’ Committee. But Livni betrayed the trust given to her and instead of promoting the law as required, dragged it out to such an extent that last week, when forced to convene a meeting on the topic, she exploded it at the onset.

I assume that the justice minister and the attorney general know very well that such conduct is unworthy, perhaps even qualifying as a “squashing” of democracy. Why the justice minister did an about-face on her initial support for the bill is puzzling, and leads to several unfortunate conclusions.

One is that when Israeli politicians use lofty language, their objectives are sometimes actually quite lowly. When they speak about their concern for the future of the State of Israel and its international standing, it would be most worthwhile to remind them that they themselves are causing the greatest damage to the state, because if Livni and her friends on the Left see the proposed nationality law as racist and irresponsibly go about casting aspersions on the State of Israel and its laws, then we shouldn’t be surprised when such activities increase the world’s enmity toward Israel.

The author is mayor of Efrat.


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