What’s the future for non-Jews in the ‘Jewish state’?
Sunday’s cabinet session through which the bill was passed ‘descended into a shouting match’
Israel’s cabinet on Sunday voted in favor of a proposal to enshrine in law Israel’s status as the homeland of the Jewish people, a move which if passed by the parliament would weaken further the status non-Jewish Israeli citizens, analysts told Al Arabiya News.
Chris Doyle, the director of the London-based advocacy group Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), said that Arabs - who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and strongly oppose the bill - would result in a “premier tier of citizen within the state of Israel.”
“There will be a lot of nervousness amongst the non-Jewish communities, particularly the Palestinian citizens of Israel, nervousness that [existed in] already a very tenuous situation,” Doyle told Al Arabiya News.
“This is happening in a state where non-Jewish actors have lost land, they’ve lost homes, they’ve lost many rights within the state, albeit they have rights that may not be available in other countries, it’s not the worst example of minority rights within the world or even the region, but it is still a worrying trend,” he added.
The bill will be integrated into a planned new proposal which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to bring for parliament voting.
In Sunday’s cabinet session, which “descended into a shouting match” according to Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu said that while Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, with equal rights for every citizen, “there are national rights only for the Jewish people; a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel, and other national symbols.”
The bill calls for distinguishing Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation, and delisting Arabic as an official language.
Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said that the proposal is “more than symbolic” and shows the “line of action in which the Israeli government [will go] in the future…[non-Jewish minorities] are already jeopardized, but now discrimination against them would be sanctioned by law.”
The motives behind the proposal were “nothing new” and had frequently been a part of rhetoric by Israel politicians, Khashan added.
“On many occasions in the past – and not the distant past – many Israeli politicians stated clearly that and unambiguously that Arabs have no future in the state of Israel,” said Khashan.
Denis Charbit, a political scientist at Israel’s Open University, predicted that a final version of the text is likely to be more moderate but would still be “problematic.”
Charbit told AFP that Netanyahu’s proposal “disassociates the Jewish character from the democratic character of the state and this institutionalizes a hierarchy between them, to the detriment of democracy.”
In the same vein Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein fears the bill could damage the country's democratic character.
“It’s very problematic to me that the government supports [private members’ bill] proposals which raise serious problems,” Weinstein said, according to Israeli media.
Weighing the benefits
In an interview on Israeli radio, Dan Meridor, a former high-ranking lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, slammed the bill, describing it as “completely superfluous,” the Times of Israel reported.
“Who will benefit from a law saying that the state is the nation state of the Jewish people? Of course that is what it is. We and our parents devoted our entire lives to building this country for the Jewish people,” Meridor said.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan research center in Jerusalem, and a former member of the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – told the New York Times that the proposal was “unnecessary” due to existing legal codes.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence, drafted upon the country’s establishment in 1948, proclaimed “the establishment of a Jewish State in the land of Israel,” while promising “the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex.”
“The initiative is not there to serve any practical purpose but rather it comes to address political needs,” Plesner said.
The bill was a way for Netanyahu to test his coalition allies, according to Bloomberg News.
According to Khashan, the proposal will easily pass through the Knesset.
“The right wingers [who advocate settlement-building] are strong and Netanyahu’s bloc cannot afford to say no to them, because they need them in order to maintain the coalition, so it will go through,” he said.