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Does Israel's new law detract from its democratic values?

Tel Aviv

The reaction to Israel's defining new law, which resembles a constitutional amendment, could not have been more glaring.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads a coalition government that is considered the most right wing in Israel's history, called the newly coined law a "landmark" and posed for a solemn selfie in the Parliament. Elsewhere in the building, Israeli Arab legislators tore copies of the legislation to pieces.

The cracked reaction in the Knesset last Thursday followed right after the parliament passed legislation that established the state of Israel as an exclusively Jewish national project

praised by followers long overdue and by despisers who At best, they are perceived as harmful or unnecessary, and the legislation brings the decade-long tension between Israel as a democracy and as a Jewish state in full swing.

"Basic Law: Israel as a Nation-State of the Jewish People", legislation raises the status of Hebrew over Arabic, encourages "Jewish settlement" and refrains from any reference to democracy or equality for Israel's Arab minority, which is 20 percent of the population

A Knesset leader removes Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset representing the Balad party, who protested against the passing of the National State Act, in Jerusalem on July 19, 2018. Opponents and human rights groups have criticized the legislation before it to warn that minorities, such as the country's Arabs, are disadvantaged.

Olivier Fitoussi / AP



"This is a stab in the back," says Kamal Adwan, editor of "Hona," a newspaper of the Druze community that, unlike most other Israeli Arab groups, sends its high school Graduates to serve in the Israeli army.

"This law does not give equality to the citizens of the country and classifies them according to different levels of citizenship," he says. "The Drusan community has always considered itself part of the state, and suddenly it turns out that it is a second-class citizen."

Mohammed Dawarshe, an Arab activist working for coexistence with Israeli Jews, says that he has learned democracy and equality in political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. added that the national state's bill twisted these terms.

"This is a demotion, I saw myself as a citizen and Israel is my state," he said. "Today the state says to me: I am not your state." I feel stateless, a political orphan who has buried his political father. This is a sad development for me and my community.

At first glance, the law seems to say the obvious: it anchors the nation's national anthem, builds the banner of the Star of David with blue and white as Israel's official flag, and affirms Israel's The Law of Return automatically grants citizenship to Jews outside Israel when they immigrate.

Israeli soldiers stand during the "Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum" in Nazareth, December 22, 2013. Israeli military service is compulsory for most Jews Druze Arab leaders have served their community for military service in the 1950s and Druze men have since been drafted, while Muslims and Christians are not required to serve.

But there are some new wrinkles many say formalize a hierarchy between Jews and Arabs "Right to national self-determination in the State of Israel unique to the Jewish people "is. Hebrew is recognized as the language of the state, while Arabic, which was an official language alongside Hebrew since the previous years. Israel's founding, is referred to as a language with a special status. Another clause includes "Jewish settlement" as "national value" – this was watered down by an earlier version that supported segregated cities.

The gaps in the law are also significant, say critics. The law does not mention the rights of the country's Arab minority, nor does it discuss the principle of equality, or does it refer to Israel's democratic system of government. The influence of legislation is all the more powerful as it belongs to one of 15 "Basic Laws" that establish constitutional governmental institutions and legal values.

Although the law has little immediate practical effect, Israeli critics say it will poison – tense relations between Arabs and Jews that may inspire undemocratic laws and exclusivist court decisions in the future.

"What do we need this for?"

"Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people without this law and that is accepted by the countries of the world, what do we need it for?" Says Yedidia Stern, law professor at Bar-Ilan University. "Judges of the Supreme Court of the next generation will be able to say that equality is not secured at the highest level [constitutionally] while the Jewish character is secured at the highest level."

Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli Foreign Minister His political career began in Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party and tweeted that the bill effectively made the term "democracy" a profanity.

The same concern underscored sharp statements from some US Jewish groups who criticized the bill. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said it was "deeply disappointed" by Parliament's adoption of the law and said it was "unnecessary." The law endangers Israeli efforts to build democracy, the AJC said.

"The prevailing impression is that the bill has temporarily changed democratic values, and there is a fear that this will harm the Jewish-Arab relations in which American Jewry is deeply invested," wrote Scott Lasensky, a former US diplomat during the Obama administration. "In addition, and tactically, there is a general feeling that the bill will make the defense of Israel even more difficult."

Jewish groups in the US also believe that the law could be interpreted to formalize discrimination by the Orthodox religious establishment against Israel's liberal Jewish streams

Jewish Self-determination

Since its inception, Israelis have struggled to to strike a balance between two seemingly contradictory values: the country's right to exist as the home of the Jews and the pursuit of a democracy that guarantees equal rights for all its citizens. These values ​​are listed in the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence, but they were never codified in a formal constitution.

Avraham Diskin, professor of political science at the Hebrew University and longtime advocate of the law, says that legislation is necessary to establish a right to self-determination for Jews. While in other basic Israeli laws, such as "Fundamental Law: Human Dignity and Freedom ," values ​​of democracy, equality and human rights are enshrined, the Jewish character of the country has been ignored, he says [19659003] "The only people in the world, those who are denied the right to self-determination are the Jews, even if the Jewish people are ready to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, "says Professor Diskin. The National Constitution was also necessary to serve as a legal counterweight to basic laws that emphasize democracy and human rights.

During the debate prior to the adoption of the bill, one of its main sponsors, Avi Dichter, a member of Der Likud and chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset, offered a more provocative defense and said that the purpose of the legislation is therein is to eradicate the demands of Arab citizens for a "state of all their citizens". This concept has become a curse on the Israeli right wing because it was supposed to strip Israel of Jewish character.

"You were not here before us, and you will not stay behind us All you can do is live as a national minority among us," Poets said in plenary and spoke with Arab colleagues. "We are passing this bill to avoid even a fraction of the thought or effort to turn Israel into a state of all its citizens."

Global Trend

Observers said the law, which has undergone numerous iterations and versions for nearly a decade, reflects Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state in peace negotiations. Israeli right-wing extremists complain that if the international community supports a Palestinian state, it should recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

According to some critics, the new constitution is part of an international trend of rising nationalist nationalist forces in Europe and the US, trying to curtail some of the universalist political traditions in their respective countries. Moreover, with the support of the Trump administration, the Israeli government felt that it had more room to carry out such nationalist reforms.

"Like many other countries, we are fighting to preserve our democratic culture," says Yossi Klein Halevi, author of the book "Letter to My Palestinian Neighbor" and senior staff member of the independent Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Although Israeli democracy has not been dismantled, Halevi says the constitution is provocative and lacks sensitivity to Arab citizens.

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