Basic Law: Israel the Nation-State of the Jewish People

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This bill seeks to define Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” – and uniquely of the Jewish people – legally subordinating the state’s democratic character to its Jewish one as defined in this bill.

Tabled by: MKs Avi Dichter (Kadima), Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu) – and signed by 40 MKs from both the coalition and the opposition parties – on 3 August 2011.

This bill seeks to define Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” – and uniquely of the Jewish people – legally subordinating the state’s democratic character to its Jewish one as defined in this proposed bill. The bill further stipulates that Arabic will no longer be an official language of the state (rather a “special status” language), that Hebrew Law shall serve as a source of inspiration for the legislator, and enables the establishment of separate communal settlements for members of one religion or nationality, thereby cleansing, and even makes a statutory norm of, existing practices of racial discrimination in housing.

In essence, much of what is being proposed is similar to what already exists today through various laws. The major differences are the emphasis on Israel as the national home only of the Jewish people, and the demotion of Arabic to a secondary language. The most problematic element of this legislation is its discriminatory message, leaving no room for protection of minorities in Israel – particularly not the Arab minority.

In a rare move, the Knesset’s Legal Adviser, Eyal Yinon, has called last week for a broad public and parliamentary debate on this bill and stated: “I believe that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this proposal, due to its implications on and significance for Israeli constitutional law [...] No longer a horizontal balance between the two parts of the formula [Jewish and democratic], but rather the creation of a vertical balance, so that after the law is passed, at the top of the constitutional ladder will be the principle of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and only under it will be the principle of the democratic state; and even then, it will be in a ‘slim’ formula that states ‘the State of Israel has a democratic regime,’ as opposed to ‘the State of Israel is a democratic state.’”

3 August 2011: Bill tabled in the Knesset

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