Israel's Nation-State Law: Consequences and Costs

Last month, the Nation-State law enshrining the principle that Israel is the “national home of the Jewish people” became one of Israel’s Basic Laws, giving it a quasi-constitutional status. The new law, which polls indicate a majority of Israeli Jews support, has generated enormous controversy at home and abroad, alienating and angering Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Druze community with its focus on Jewish primacy. What are the consequences of the new law for comity, politics and governance in Israel? In this Ground Truth Briefing, four veteran observers of Israel’s politics and policies discuss the new law and its consequences.

Selected Quotes

 

Jane Harman

"Israel has no formal constitution, so the law which asserts the idea that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people when others live in Israel raises serious concerns among minority groups as to their place and role in the Jewish state.”

Aaron David Miller

“Israel is not unique among nations in grappling with the challenges of national minorities. 70 years after independence, you could actually even argue that neither Israel’s identity nor its boundaries are agreed to by all its citizens. This is not unusual.”

Martin Kramer

“The law is called 'Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.' Now, this reminds us of something that is often forgotten; Israel was established as a nation-state."

“It has been said that this law is divisive, and it is because of the politics of the moment. But remember, even Israel’s Declaration of Independence was divisive. On the day the state was declared, May 14, 1948, the Declaration had to be approved by the People’s Council, which was a kind of proto-parliament. On the first ballot, a full third of the members abstained, and that’s without any Arab members.”

"There is no way a law defining the Jewish state could not be divisive[.]”

Ayman Odeh

“Arab citizens are a minority within the state of Israel. They will forever remain within Israel’s borders living together with Jews. They must be recognized as a national group that deserves civil and national rights. Israel is considered, itself, a Jewish and democratic state, but the truth is that it was never that Jewish because we, Arabs, are twenty percent of the population.”

“We are living in the 21st century, in which all citizens should be respected for their humanity, and all citizens should be offered equal rights. And with all due respect, we are not citizens because we came to the state of Israel. On the contrary, Israel comes to us as vicious. All that we want is peace and equality between Arabs and Jews in a democratic Palestinian state within the 67’ borders alongside a democratic Israeli state.”

“What is new about the national state law is that it’s called Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state into question, because this law says that the state of Israel is exclusively for the Jewish nation.”

Anshel Pfeffer

“Israel, at some point in 2019—probably sometime in March or June—will be holding elections. Netanyahu may be the front runner for now, but to ensure a fifth election victory and a manageable coalition after that victory…he needs to keep [the opposition] weak, divided, and discredited.”

“Netanyahu sees the law as a way to grasp the agenda; distract attentions from his own legal issues with an anti-Arab law which is popular with his base. He hopes to use it to tar the center-left as unpatriotic Arab lovers for opposing the law.”

“The real target of the law is not Israel’s non-Jewish minority. They are but the unfortunate bystanders who are its casualties. The real target is the opposition to Netanyahu both within the right wing and on the center-left.”

Shibley Telhami

“When you asked people about rights within Israel, 79% of all Jews—including 69% of secular Jews—said that Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel.”

“There was a big difference between Arabs and Jews in terms of trends. While Jews were increasingly less Israeli and more Jewish, Arabs were increasingly more Israeli and less Arab in their prioritizing…While a majority of Arabs still say they are Arab or Palestinian first…the number of people who say [they are] Israeli first has been increasing.”

“It’s not only symbolic, because symbolism has consequences. It legitimizes a certain discourse, it legitimizes certain benefits and, beyond that, even though it may not directly have legal consequences for today, it opens up the possibility of claims down the road.”

 

Speakers

Introduction

Moderator

  • Aaron David Miller

    Aaron David Miller

    Vice President for New Initiatives and Middle East Program Director
    Historian, analyst, negotiator, and former advisor to Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State on Arab-Israeli negotiations, 1978-2003; Global Affairs Analyst with CNN

Speakers

  • Martin Kramer

    Founding president of Shalem College in Jerusalem, where he teaches Middle Eastern history; and Koret Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Ayman Odeh

    Head of the Joint List, the third largest parliamentary group in the 20th Knesset
  • Anshel Pfeffer

    Correspondent, Haaretz; author, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Shibley Telhami

    Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, College Park