Israel’s parliament on Thursday adopted a law defining the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people, provoking fears it will lead to blatant discrimination against its Palestinian citizens.
The Nationality Bill:
The law speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a “unique” right to self-determination there.
The legislation makes Hebrew the country’s national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.
Arabic, previously considered an official language, was granted only special status.
It also establishes the flag, the national symbol, and anthem.
The legislation becomes part of the country’s basic laws, which serve as a de facto constitution.
Critics say the law is “racist” and it legalizes “apartheid”. The passage of the law continues Israel’s rightward shift in recent years amid frustration with failed peace agreements with the Palestinians and steady growth in settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
Arab Muslims are also concerned. Israel is currently home to 1.8 million Arab Muslims, roughly 20 percent of its population, who have lived here since the creation of the independent nation-state. They speak and study in the language most widely spoken across the region, by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
The question of Israel’s status as a Jewish state is politically controversial and has long been debated. Before now, it has not been enshrined in law.
Some Israeli Jewish politicians consider that the founding principles of Israel’s creation, as a state for Jews in their ancient homeland, are under threat and could become less relevant, or obsolete, in the future.
Fears over the high birth-rate of Israeli Arabs, as well as possible alternatives to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which could challenge Israel’s Jewish majority, have spurred on calls to anchor the Jewishness of Israel in law.
For a country that prides itself on being the only strong and stable democracy in a region surrounded by dictators, monarchs and other authoritarian rulers inimical to its existence, this legislation changes that very character. Reducing the status of minorities further is only likely to fuel tensions in one of the most volatile regions in the world. After all, both Jewish national consciousness and Arab nationalism fuel each other.