Jewish-nation bill aims to institutionalise apartheid in Israel

Jewish-nation bill aims to institutionalise apartheid in Israel
The notion of Israel being an exclusively Jewish state is a contentious issue in the country, not least for Palestinian residents under siege from a new "identity" bill.
5 min read
24 November, 2014
A new law could see Palestinian citizens of Israel face further discrimination [AFP]

Israel is "the nation-state of the Jewish people", according to a bill approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday.

Israel's often divided coalition government united, though not unanimously, for the vote, with 14 ministers voting for the bill, and six - including members of the centrist Yesh Atid party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni - voted against.

The bill restricts the right to express national self-determination within Israel "only to the Jewish people".

Jewish state

"There are those who want the democratic to take precedence over the Jewish, and there are those that want the Jewish to take precedence over the democratic," said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who backed the bill.

"And the principle of the law that we are proposing here today - both of these values are equal and we must consider them equally."

The proposed bill has two versions - but both stipulate that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Therefore, in a legal battle between Judaism and democracy - that is, between religious and secular law - Jewish rabbinic legislation takes priority. It also commits the government to the continued expansion of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, which are illegal under international law.

Delays to voting sparked a ministerial crisis, when right-wing Jewish Home party leader, Naftali Bennett, threatened to dissolve the cabinet and withdraw from the coalition if the motion was not approved by ministers.

The proposals are scheduled to be voted on next Wednesday at the Knesset through a preliminary reading. Ayelet Shaked and Ze'ev Elkin, who presented the proposals, have pledged to merge the two bills, allowing the Israeli prime minister to present a comprehensive law to Knesset under one name.

Whichever version of the law is passed, it will constitute a significant step towards officially promoting state-sponsored racism, say analysts, and give Israel's Palestinian citizens an inferior citizenship status.

No right to return

Another consequence of the law is that it would prevent Palestinians from having the right to return to their homes within the Israeli borders.

In future negotiations, Israel would only consider the return of refugees to any potential Palestinian state, not Israel, while immigration into the country would be reserved exclusively for Jews.

According to Netanyahu's version of the bill, only Jewish people will be entitled to civic rights in Israel. Arab citizens, meanwhile, will be denied any collective rights - especially the right to be recognised as a national minority.

This would be contrary to UN charters regarding the rights of minority and indigenous groups.

The bill is also a setback for democracy in Israel, allowing judges of Israel's Supreme Court to prioritise Jewish values over general democratic values when a conflict arises between the two.

     By defining Israel officially as 'the nation-state of the Jewish people' it could introduce a new identity for the state.

Chief among the targets of this bill is the Arabic language, which became an official language when Israel was formed, due to laws from the British mandate era.

If the bill becomes law, the indigenous language would be classified as "a special status unofficial language".

By defining Israel officially as "the nation-state of the Jewish people", a controversial definition in itself, it could introduce a new identity for the state. The Jewish law could also inspire new legislation and rulings by Israeli courts.

Racist system

Approving the bill in its current form would mean the effective formation of an apartheid system without any of its previous "liberal touches". It would define the state's relationship with Palestinian citizens, seeing them lose the official recognition of their language, and negating any commitments towards equality between Jews and non-Jews with the allocation of homes.

The proposed bill also legitimises the work of the Jewish National Fund that controls most of the land in Israel.

Arguing that they are a non-governmental and private fund for Jews, the aim of this organisation is essentially to refuse to sell or rent land to Arabs.

Yet another setback for Israel's indigenous citizens would be to prevent positive discrimination legislation being passed that might one day work in favour of Palestinians. It would also remove the state from commitments to provide equality between Jews and non-Jews in job opportunities, employment and education. According to the bill, any institution would only need to identify itself as Jewish in order to protect itself from allegations of racism.

"The proposed bill is essentially racially discriminatory because it entrenches depriving Palestinians of a chance of obtaining land from the state and circumvents the decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice in 2000, which banned the state from racial discrimination against Arabs in relation to land rights," said law professor Aeyal Gross.

Adopting Elkin's proposal will turn the court's decision upside-down.

The proposed law reads: "The state has the right to allow members of a single region or a single ethnicity to build towns where members of a single ethnicity live."

Gross believes this is a "reflection and echo of the justification that the apartheid system used in South Africa when it spoke about advancing each ethnic group individually".

     The proposed bill is part and parcel of a series of racist laws enacted by the Israeli government in recent years.

A pattern of discrimination

The proposed bill is part and parcel of a series of racist laws enacted by the Israeli government in recent years. Most prominent is the amendment to the Israeli entry law, which prevents Israeli-Arab speakers from marrying Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.

Now, the state can refuse the spouse from the Occupied Territories full citizenship and residency rights.

The Admissions Committees Law allows rural Jewish towns in the Negev and Galilee to ban Arabs from moving into their towns, a bid to enthnographically enforce a "Jewish-only" Israel.

The "Nakba law" also bans the commemoration of the Palestinian "catastrophe", when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes during Israel's founding. It also withdraws state funding from any institution commemorating that Palestinian day of mourning.

Other amendments to the law give educational preferences to citizens who have served in the Israeli army and to restrict certain occupations to military veterans only.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the bill is its adoption of Jewish laws making the proclamations of ancient prophets as a source for future legislation. These in particular contradict the regular democratic and secular values the state was supposed to be founded on.

Soon, we could see the apartheid system in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem to be applied inside Israel itself, despite laws that guarantee equality for Jews and non-Jews.

For Palestinian citizens of Israeli, this has always been sweet-talk aimed at concealing policies to the outside world that target them with exclusion, racial discrimination and segregation. 

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.