Israeli government proposes law defining nation-state of Jewish people

Israel Jews Wall Photo by Premasager Rose
The Guardian reported this on Sunday:

A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character.

Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.

The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.

There was “rancorous” debate within the Israeli cabinet about this, with the vote going 14-7 in favour of putting the bill before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The Justice Minister and the Attorney General were said to be against the move. There are suspicions that Binyamin Netanyahu pushing this change is not entirely unrelated to forthcoming primary elections within his party, Likud. He is burnishing his “tough guy” credentials, perhaps.

Is this move perhaps a “foot shooting” exercise? During recent debates about the behavior of the Israeli government, there has been a recurring argument put forward in Israel’s defence. Defenders say: ‘Israel is a true democracy with 20% non-Jews who play a key role in society, including in the Knesset’.

If this bill becomes law, that particular debating rug will be pulled out sharply from the under the feet of Israel. It seems that it would not help Israel’s international reputation, to say the least.

What do you think?

Comments will be moderated.

Photo by Premasager Rose

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Disgraceful, if passed there should be punitive sanctions.

  • Doesn’t sound like a good idea. Many Jewish people live all over the world and have nothing to do with Israel. The phrase suggests Israel somehow represents them. Seems arrogant and over-reaching. Of course the Jews are a small minority and Israel is a bit different but I don’t think a law that defines a state on racial or religious grounds is a good idea.

  • Well done Paul Walter for giving this further coverage.
    The facts of what has been happening in Israel need to be exposed
    The old myth is that Israel is “democratic”. How can a country that deliberately discriminates in law against Christian and Muslim Palestinians on the basis of their religion or their ethnicity possibly describe itself as democratic?

    The proposals currently being put forward are merely an extension of existing practice in Israel.
    For too long the “western” media has ignored or turned a blind eye to the apartheid nature of the Israeli government and the way it has run Occupied Palestine for the last seventy years.

  • Nothing will be done .

    Here is Prime Ministers questions from today…

    Sir Gerald Kaufman: Will the Prime Minister condemn the new Israeli Government Bill which removes what are defined as national rights from all Israeli citizens who are not Jews, makes Hebrew the only national language and has been denounced by the Israeli Attorney General as causing a deterioration in the democratic character of the state? Will he make clear that statutory repressive removal of citizenship rights on the basis of religion will turn Israel into an apartheid state? [shouts of Hear! Hear!]

    David Cameron: What I’d say to the Rt Hon Gentleman is this, that one of the reasons I’m such a strong supporter of Israel is that it is a country that has given rights and democracy to its people, and it’s very important that that continues. When you look across the region, and you look at those indexes of freedom, you see that Israel is one of the few countries that actually ticks the boxes in terms of freedom and it’s very important it continues to do so.

  • Lauren Salerno 26th Nov '14 - 5:11pm

    Hmmmmm will the West prove David Ward right and do nothing?

    Expect so

  • It’s disgraceful. But it almost certainly won’t become law. If 1/3 of the cabinet don’t support it, then there’s no chance of a majority of the Knesset supporting it.

    As you say, this is outrageous cynicism from Netanyahu in a clear attempt to win the bigot vote.

    But those using this as an excuse to bash Israel as a whole need to consider that our own politicians are often tempted to propose, if not actually put to parliament, legislation designed to take rights away from minority groups that certain populist politicians and papers blame for all our ills…

  • paul barker 26th Nov '14 - 5:45pm

    The big worry is that this just stage one, the next step would be to incorporate the Occupied Territories into Israel proper. Palestine & Palestinians would cease to exist in Israeli eyes. “Occupation ? What Occupation ?”
    This is actually worse than Apartheid, its only a short step to defining Minorites as Non-People.

  • Julian Tisi 26th Nov '14 - 7:52pm

    Well it will make things clearer. Until now, Israel had at least a thin veneer of democratic respectability – Israel could and indeed does claim that non-Jewish citizens of Israel (unless they live in the West Bank or Gaza that is) have equal rights to Jewish citizens of Israel. This law will make it clear in law aswell as in practice that Israel is actually a racist, apartheid state that discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens.

    The silence from our leader is deafening.

  • So what of my party leader, is he going to say anything or worry about donors. I have a bias that I have to admit, my father was there when the King David hotel was bombed and my grandfather who was an army padre could have been there.

  • Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, yet the country was Hindu before the arrival of Islam. Many arab muslim countries expelled Jews after 1948. Jewish communities have existed in arab countries since 500 BC. Saudi Arabia and many other arab countries do not allow synagogues to be built. If are concerned about Israel being declared a Jewish country: what about some muslim countries and the rights of non-muslims?

  • Cameron’s statement is appalling. This fawning attitude to Netanyahu should be a red line issue for our Lib Dem ministers. It would be nice to hear the Lib Dem Friends of Israel speaking out against this nationality law.

    John Kelly is Vice Chair of the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine.

  • Jonathan Davies 27th Nov '14 - 11:51am

    This is a proposal put forward by the Prime Minister and opposed by other parties in the coalition government – where have we heard that before?

    I oppose it – but it is fair to point out the proposal will not limit the civil rights of non Jews. If it’s wrong for Israel to be declared a Jewish State it must be equally wrong for the UK to be a Christian State and numerous countries to be Muslim states.

  • AC Trussell 27th Nov '14 - 4:27pm

    Religion is not democratic.
    Sad that we still have anything to do with this so called country, when its very existence is based on religion– made-up!

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 27th Nov '14 - 6:44pm

    Jonathan, are you sure your proposition that it will not reduce the civil rights of non-Jews is tenable?

    If a significant proportion of the population have their language removed as an official language that will affect their civil rights.

    There is a difference between being a country where a certain religion is the most commonly followed and a state where the constitution gives special importance to a religion and thereby imposes it on other citizens. To the limited extent that the UK does not treat all religions equally, we have long been committed to reform that.

  • g – totally agree


    “Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, yet the country was Hindu before the arrival of Islam. Many arab muslim countries expelled Jews after 1948. Jewish communities have existed in arab countries since 500 BC. Saudi Arabia and many other arab countries do not allow synagogues to be built. If are concerned about Israel being declared a Jewish country: what about some muslim countries and the rights of non-muslims?”

    Are you seriously suggesting any country should copy Saudi or Pakistan?

    Someone else being terrible is not an excuse to sink to their level.

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