Knesset's Bill 'Portrays Racism as Entirely
Israel's Knesset has passed its first vote on a
new bill defining Israel as 'a national home of
the Jewish people'.
By Jonathan Cook
New legislation to
cement the definition of
Israel as a
state belonging exclusively to Jews around the
world is a "declaration of war" on Palestinian
citizens of Israel, the minority's leaders
warned this week.
defines Israel as the "national home of the
Jewish people", passed its first vote in the
Israeli parliament on Wednesday, after it
received unanimous backing from a government
committee on Sunday.
has vowed to get the measure on to the statute
books within 60 days.
its provisions, the legislation - popularly
known as the Jewish Nation-State Bill - revokes
the status of Arabic as an official language,
even though it is the mother tongue of one in
Israel's population includes a large minority of
1.7 million Palestinians.
legislation affirms that world Jewry has a
"unique" right to national self-determination in
Israel, and calls for the government to further
strengthen ties to Jewish communities outside
increases the powers of so-called "admissions
committees" that block Palestinian citizens from
living in hundreds of communities that control
most of Israel's land.
In addition, critics are concerned that the
legislation is intended to stymie any prospects
of reviving peace talks with the Palestinian
leadership in the Occupied Territories. US
Donald Trump is
due in the region later this month in what is
widely assumed to be an attempt to kick-start a
long-stalled peace process.
Netanyahu, however, has already indicated that
he will insist on a precondition that Mahmoud
Abbas, president of
recognise Israel as a Jewish state. The new bill
effectively sets out the terms of the state
Abbas is expected to recognise.
Netanyahu said this week that all Zionist
parties in parliament would be expected to
support the legislation. "The bill establishes
the fact that the State of Israel is the
nation-state of the Jewish people in our
historic homeland," he told supporters of his
added: "There is no contradiction at all between
this bill and equal rights for all citizens of
However, leaders of Israel's large Palestinian
minority strenuously disagreed.
head of the Palestinian-dominated Joint List
party in the Israeli parliament, warned that the
legislation would ensure "the tyranny of the
majority over the minority".
the bill, Hebrew alone will be an official
language, with Arabic accorded only "special
status". Palestinian citizens already complain
that most public services and official documents
are not provided in Arabic.
aim is to portray institutional racism in Israel
as entirely normal, and make sure the apartheid
reality here is irreversible," Haneen Zoabi, a
Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament,
told Al Jazeera.
Netanyahu's government no longer
pays even lip service to the idea
that it might agree to a Palestinian
state. Most debates in the Israeli
cabinet focus instead on
intensifying settlement building and
preparations for annexing areas of
the West Bank.
part of the right's magical thinking - they are
in denial that there is an indigenous people
here still living in their homeland. We are not
about to disappear because of this law."
strictly legal terms, the Jewish Nation-State
Bill offers limited changes. Since its founding
in 1948, Israel has defined itself as a state of
the Jewish people rather than of all the
country's citizens, including its Palestinian
The Law of Return of 1950 allows only Jews to
immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship.
Adalah, a legal rights group, has
dozens of laws that explicitly discriminate
against Palestinian citizens.
new legislation is significant for reasons
beyond its immediate legal implications.
least, it gives Israel's self-definition as the
nation-state of the Jewish people something akin
to constitutional standing, observed Ali Haider,
a human rights lawyer and former co-director of
Sikkuy, an organisation lobbying for equal
bill, if passed, will join a handful of Basic
Laws intended to provide the foundation for any
future constitution. Such laws take precedence
over ordinary laws and are much harder to
is a very dangerous step because it makes
explicit in a Basic Law that all Jews, even
those who are not citizens, have superior rights
in Israel to those citizens who are
Palestinian," he told Al Jazeera.
alternative draft of the new law that promised
equal rights to all citizens was effectively
blocked by the government in January when it
came up for consideration.
said the new version would provide the
constitutional foundation to justify a tide of
other laws intended to marginalise Palestinian
citizens and erode their rights as citizens.
passed last year gives Israeli parliament the
power to expel Palestinian MPs if they make
political statements the Jewish majority
Another bill before the parliament, the
silences the Muslim call to prayer.
laws are almost certain to be challenged in
Israel's supreme court. "The judges will be much
more reluctant to intervene if the Jewish
Nation-State Bill is in force," Haider said.
"They will feel under pressure to ignore basic
democratic principles and give priority to
Israel's Jewish character."
He added that there would be little opposition
from the Jewish public. A
survey by the
Israel Democracy Institute last December found
that more than half of Israeli Jews wanted any
citizen who rejected Israel's definition as a
Jewish state stripped of basic rights.
Another key goal of the bill for the Netanyahu
government is its likely impact on any moves to
revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and US
President Donald Trump
met last week.
Netanyahu's government no longer pays even lip
service to the idea that it might agree to a
Palestinian state. Most debates in the Israeli
cabinet focus instead on intensifying settlement
building and preparations for annexing areas of
noted that since Netanyahu came to power in
2009, he has worked tirelessly to persuade
Washington to accept a new precondition for
talks: that the Palestinian leadership must
first recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
bill would place Abbas in a tricky position,
allowing him to enter talks with Israel only if
he first agrees to sacrifice the rights both of
Israel's Palestinian citizens to equal
citizenship and of millions of Palestinian
refugees to return to their former homes.
law is aimed not only at Abbas but at Trump,"
said Zoabi. "It gives him a map instructing him
exactly what can be negotiated over and what the
terms of a solution must look like."
Dichter, a member of Netanyahu's party who
drafted the bill, indicated the diplomatic use
it would be put to.
the Israeli website Ynet: "The Palestinian
aspiration to eliminate the Jewish people's
nation-state is no longer secret". He added that
Israel must make "demands of its enemies to
recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish
Netanyahu echoed Dichter, saying this week that
the bill was "the clearest answer to all those
who are trying to deny the deep connection
between the people of Israel and its land".
probably not coincidental that the Nation-State
Bill is being fast-tracked as far-right
ministers in Netanyahu's government have drafted
separate legislation to apply Israeli laws in
the West Bank. This is a key component of
efforts by settlers and their supporters in
government to annex the West Bank by stealth.
al-Halabi, a Palestinian journalist writing for
the Israeli website 972, warned this week that
on the back of the Nation-State Bill the
government would seek to redraw Israel's borders
to include parts or all of the West Bank.
resulting "apartheid regime" would then "create…
'justified crimes' against the Palestinian
people, such as population transfer or removal,"
Haaretz editorial agreed that Netanyahu was
laying the groundwork for annexing the West Bank
without conferring rights on its Palestinian
law, it said, was intended as "the
constitutional cornerstone for apartheid" in
Israel and the occupied territories, allowing
Israel to "maintain control over… a Palestinian
majority living under its rule".
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