On July 19, 2018, Israel signed a new Basic Law called “The Nation-State of the Jewish People.” It has been called controversial by many liberal media outlets in what it purports to do with minority rights.
The notion that there is a major curtailment of Israeli Arabs’ rights is a gross exaggeration. However, what should be discussed is the novel stance whereby Israel has now assumed the responsibility for the security and the “cultural, historical and religious legacy” of Jews in the diaspora.
Below is the text of the latest Basic Law in Israel, with a review below each point.
- The State of Israel
a) Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the state of Israel was established.
b) The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it actualizes its natural, religious, and historical right for self-determination.
c) The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
The comments in parts 1a and 1b are actually found in international law, in both the San Remo Conference Resolution of 1920 and the 1922 Mandate of Palestine. Specifically, international law acknowledged the historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and the goal to reconstitute such national home:
- “in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”
- “recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”
It’s an established fact that Jews have a long history in the land of Israel going back thousands of years. For over 100 years, Jews and the international community have been working to re-actualize the Jewish right to self-determination in that homeland. Sections 1a and 1b are seemingly innocuous and superfluous.
However, section 1c went a step further. It states that the national right of self-determination is ONLY for Jews. While the clause does not limit the INDIVIDUAL rights of non-Jews to live openly and freely in Israel, the intention of the clause is seemingly that non-Jews have no NATIONAL right of self-determination. Non-Jews in Israel have personal rights of self-determination as citizens of the state, while Jews have an added right as a people.
The State of Israel has very few Basic Laws. As such, why would the country opt to state the obvious points of 1a and 1b in a new Basic Law, and add the additional point of the uniqueness of Jewish self-determination in section 1c?
For the past several years, Palestinian Arab leaders have voiced their belief that Jews are not native to Israel and that only Palestinian Arabs are indigenous to the region. They have turned a blind eye to history and have been effective in getting various United Nations’ bodies to similarly cut off the deep historic and religious ties between Jews and their holy land. They have gotten the UN to decry that Jews are eliminating the natural and historic “Arab character” of Judaism’s holiest city and capital of Jerusalem where Jews have been a majority for over 150 years.
Further, Arabs contend that Jews are not even a people and therefore cannot have a claim of national self-determination. Jews are simply people that believe in a religion – Judaism – and are a diverse mix of cultures and nationalities from around the world, who descended on Palestine as tools of global powers to insert a foreign democracy in the heart of the Arab world. The Arabs have promoted the notion that these Israeli Jews are simply foreign interlopers, who are negating the Palestinian Arab right of self-determination. The acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gave a long lecture to this effect in April 2018.
If the rants of these wild fools would have been given no ear, perhaps this Basic Law would not have been drafted as is. But the mean and angry words have no longer just been echoed in the Muslim and Arab world, but are repeated in European capitals and at the United Nations. Consequently, Israel felt compelled to declare that the land of Israel has always been the homeland of the Jewish people and that the country of Israel is uniquely the nation-state of the Jewish people.
That the liberal press would be shocked at this section of the Basic Law is particularly surprising, noting how much they championed the idea of “two states for two people: one for Jews and one for Arabs,” for so many years.
- National symbols of the State of Israel
a) The name of the state is Israel.
b) The flag of the state is white, two blue stripes near the edges, and a blue Star of David in the center.
c) The symbol of the state is the Menorah with seven branches, olive leaves on each side, and the word Israel at the bottom.
d) The national anthem of the state is “Hatikvah”
e) [Further] details concerning the issue of state symbols will be determined by law.
None of the items listed in section 2 is news to anyone that has ever been to Israel or knows anything about the country. These are all established facts.
Yet, it is curious that nowhere in this section is there a specific reference to Jews or Judaism. The symbols that are highlighted – Israel (Jews are known as the Children of Israel in the Bible); Star of David (King David was a leading unifying king in Jewish history); the Menorah (a symbol of religious Judaism from the Temple); the “Hatikvah” (a song of modern Jewish longing for a return to self-determination in the Jewish holy land) – are all based on Judaism and Jewish history, yet “Jews” and “Judaism” are absent in this section.
While section 1 underscored historical facts and repudiated the Arab narrative about Jews in Israel, section 2 put forward some modern manifestations of the Jewish State. As symbols, each item is simply a marker and note of Jewish pride. Each item does nothing to impact the day-to-day lives of Jew or non-Jew living in Israel.
Perhaps section 2e leaves open the idea that new state symbols might include items that are not inherently Jewish, such as a state bird.
- [The] unified and complete [city of] Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel, and Israel enshrined this fact in the 1980 Basic Law about Jerusalem that was issued solely for such purpose. This section is seemingly wholly redundant.
While much of the world has not recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of Jerusalem, the United Nations took additional steps against part of Israel’s capital in December 2017. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 declared that all lands that Israel won in its defensive war against Jordan in 1967 were illegally obtained, including the eastern part of Jerusalem.
It would appear that Israel opted to repeat its claim on the entirety of Jerusalem because of the recent action of the United Nations. If there were broader goals such as declaring the city as the holiest site for Jews, the statement would have been broader and discussed the holy sites in the city. Perhaps the drafters of the Law decided that they did not want to provoke the Muslim world, despite the Arabs’ constant belittling of Jewish sites and rights in Jerusalem.
- The Language of the State of Israel
a) Hebrew is the language of the state.
b) The Arabic language has a special status in the state; the regulation of the Arab language in state institutions or when facing them will be regulated by law.
c) This clause does not change the status given to the Arabic language before the basic law was created.
Since the Mandate of Palestine of 1922, English, Arabic and Hebrew have been the official languages in Palestine (Article 22). When Israel declared itself a state in 1948, it continued to give preference to the Arabic language. This Basic law’s section 4b is seemingly a demotion of Arabic as an “official” language, but section 4c seems to ensure that there is no practical impact of such demotion, as Arabic will continue to be used in all governmental items such as monies, stamps and signage.
Section 4 can best be viewed through the same lens as section 2 – a symbolic note that has no practical impact on day-to-day life. Only the Hebrew language was called out with pride by David Ben Gurion in the country’s Declaration of Independence in May 1948. This section is seemingly another marker of the Jewishness of the State of Israel, even while it makes accommodations for people who speak Arabic.
- The state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the gathering of the exiled.
This statement is seemingly WEAKER than international law laid out in the Mandate of Palestine. In Article 6, that document specifically sought to “facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.” The word “facilitate” is an active verb compared to simply being “open” to Jewish immigration.
More specifically, section 5 is completely redundant with the country’s Declaration of Independence which stated “THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.”
Once again, this Basic Law is seemingly redundant with international law and the country’s foundation document. Which might give a clue as to why the country’s lawmakers decided to issue such clauses in a rare new Basic Law.
The United Nations acted against its own international laws as it related to Jews and the Jewish homeland. The Mandate of Palestine clearly stated that no person could be excluded from living anywhere in the Mandate because of their religion (Article 15), but the British promptly separated half of the Mandate region into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and allowed the country to become Jew-free. When Jordan attacked Israel in 1948 and subsequently banned all Jews from the west bank of the Jordan River, including eastern Jerusalem, and then gave citizenship only to Arabs – specifically excluding Jews – the United Nations said nothing. The UN continues to declare that the vast majority of the Mandate – Jordan, the “West Bank” and Gaza – should be Jew-free today.
Israel clearly felt the need to state in its own laws that it is going to welcome the Jewish exiles from around the world, as it has for years, and not rely on the neutered international laws from 1922, nor its own foundation document.
- The Diaspora
a) The state will labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people and its citizens who are in trouble and captivity due to their Jewishness or their citizenship.
b) The state will act to preservethe cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora.
Of the eleven sections in the 2018 Basic Law on The Nation State of the Jewish People, this is the only one that is truly new. It is not found in international law (1920 and 1922) nor in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948). It has no appearance in any of the country’s prior Basic Laws. It is extraordinary in every facet.
That a sovereign country would extend its safety net to a select group of non-citizens around the world is remarkable. It is without parallel.
The second underlying rationale of this new Basic Law becomes clear in this section. It is not only about echoing facts and laws that the world has chosen to ignore, but establishing this new one. The notion of a nation-state is a two-way street: Israel is the Jewish State, and the Jewish State is there for all Jews around the world.
This language stands against the carefully worded text of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that specifically did not bias the Jewish communities outside of Palestine, that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights… or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
While Jews are not in jeopardy of losing their “political status” as citizens of countries around the world, they now seemingly have a foreign country protecting them and their culture.
The 2014 War from Gaza unleashed waves of antisemitism around the world, particularly in Europe. Jews were attacked and killed in capital cities and small towns. It reached such a point that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Paris in early 2015 and asked the Jewish community whether it was time to leave France and move to Israel. It was an outrageous act, but also effective: the number of people from France making Aliya (moving to Israel) tripled after the events and Netanyahu’s visit.
Many people in France were angry at Netanyahu’s statement. The government of France appealed to its Jews that France would be considered a failure if it could not protect its Jewish population, but in fact, the Jewish community in France was broadly resentful that France was no longer a secure home for them.
Netanyahu came to Europe to state that times are different: the 1939 British White Paper which prevented Jews from fleeing the Holocaust to come to Israel was no more. Israel was a reality and ready to welcome anyone fleeing persecution as the nation-state for all Jews around the world.
It perhaps comes at a moment of security and smugness that Israel now offers its help to world Jewry, after decades of calling on world Jewry to help the nascent state. As Ben Gurion said on that fateful day in May 1948, “WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.” Israel has now turned the table and is assuming the role of the guardian for world Jewry as opposed to the other way around.
But Jewish memory extends beyond the 1940s.
In 1917, British Jews made sure that the Balfour Declaration did not ensnare Jews outside of Palestine. However in 2018, Israel did not consult with world Jewry when it extended its sheltering tabernacle over their homes in the diaspora.
A very awkward step for a government that stated it had the interests of world Jewry in mind.
- The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.
Section 7 is a repeat of international law as mentioned above in Article 6 of the Mandate of Palestine.
Settling the land has always been a priority of Zionists. It was true in the 1890s and remains true in the 21st century. The tie between the Jewish people and the Jewish holy land has been true for thousands of years, and no law that sought to connect the nation-state of Jews and Israel could possibly ignore the land of Israel. The Jewish ties to the Jewish holy land existed before the Modern State of Israel, and the government of Israel would be failing its basic mission of self-determination if it did not wholeheartedly promote the development of the land itself.
- The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the secular calendar will serve as an official calendar. The usage of the Hebrew calendar and of the secular calendar will be determined by law.
Not news for anyone living in, or doing business in Israel.
As with the other items in this Basic Law, it seeks to affirm particular Jewishness of how the state operates. Like many of the sections, it does nothing to harm not-Jewish citizens, any more than some countries declaring Christmas a national holiday harms non-Christians.
- National Holidays
a) Independence Day is the official holiday of the state.
b) The Memorial Day for those who fell in the wars of Israel and the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and heroism are official memorial days of the state.
Beyond stating that the holidays and calendar of Judaism will be officially recognized in Israel’s calendar (sections 8 and 10), section 9 ascribes important moments in Israel’s history as national holidays in a typical fashion of any country, but adds a new dimension. Placing a historic event that occurred OUTSIDE of the country’s borders, which impacted a subset of its citizens is highly unusual. The Holocaust did not just have minimal impact on the non-Jews in Israel, but it had little direct impact on the majority Mizrachi Jews from countries including Iraq, Yemen, Egypt and Morocco.
But the Holocaust stands apart from the terrible persecutions suffered by Jews in Arab lands. The Holocaust was so evil and heinous, that it forced the world to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even the United Nations marks the day and encourages all member nations to remember the Nazi atrocities.
Of course the Jewish State would be one of those countries to recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day.
- Saturday and the Jewish Holidays are the official days of rest in the state. Those who are not Jewish have the right to honor their days of rest and their holidays. Details concerning these matters will be determined by law.
See section 8 above.
- This Basic Law may not be altered except by a Basic Law that gained the approval of the majority of the Knesset members.
The 2018 Basic Law is seemingly a reaction to world events since early 2014. While Israel has had to contend with an Arab world that rejects coexistence in favor of terrorism for decades, it has been the world’s more recent embrace of fake history and vile antisemitism that necessitated the Basic Law of the Nation State of the Jewish People at this time.
That the Basic Law would include language that Israel will act to protect Jews around the world, gives some insight of how Israel expects antisemitism to play out in the years ahead.
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