Apartheid Jewish Nation State Law in Israel (Norms and Social Practice)

jewish nation state

In a normal democratic state there is always a tension between norms and social practice, between the ideal of equality as a norm against the practice of social exclusion and discrimination. In a healthy democracy, society is determined in the struggle to bend unequal social practice towards the universal normative values such as equality and justice that the state claims to embody. Having just passed its first vote in the Knesset, the stated “purpose” of recent and revised bill declaring Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” is meant to “defend.” Against whom? Against the world? Against its own citizens? Against anyone who might come to claim it? Defensive in posture, the proposed law does not reach out or extend rights to others, to bind every citizen into a common and equal compact. It does nothing to integrate diverse citizens into a single state. Regarding democratic norms and unequal social practice, it works in an anti-democratic direction and towards an anti-democratic purpose. The proposed law turns the reality of unequal and discriminatory social practice, the privilege enjoyed by Jews at the expense of the Palestinian minority, into a social norm, technically into a “Basic Law” of the state. The norm here is not democratic. Formally turning the State of Israel into an identity state, only Jews have “national rights.” Only Jewish language, Jewish symbols, Jewish holidays, Jewish people are recognized, made visible. Palestinian Israelis are rendered off to the side and invisible. The rights reserved to the Palestinian minority in the proposed Basic Law is to remain “separate” and unequal.

The translation of this first version of the proposed Basic Law is here:

Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People

1 — Basic principles

  1. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which they realize their aspiration to self-determination in accordance with their cultural and historical heritage.
  2. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
  3. The provisions of this Basic Law or any other legislation shall be interpreted in light of what is determined in this paragraph.

2 — Purpose

The purpose of this Basic Law is to defend the character of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, in order to anchor in Israel’s Basic Laws the State of Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.

3 — The symbols of the state

  1. The state anthem is “Hatikvah.”
  2. The state flag is white with two blue stripes near the edges and a blue Star of David in the center.
  3. The state emblem is a seven-branched menorah with olive leaves on both sides and the word “Israel” beneath it.

4 — The capital

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

5 — Language

  1. The state’s language is Hebrew.
  2. The Arabic language has a special status, and its speakers have the right to language-accessible state services in their native language, as will be determined by the law.

6 — Return

Every Jew has the right to immigrate to the land [of Israel] and acquire citizenship of the State of Israel in accordance with the law.

7 — Ingathering of the exiles

The State shall act to gather in the exiles of Israel.

8 — Connection to the Jewish people in the Diaspora

A: The State shall act to strengthen the affinity between Israel and the Jewish people in the Diaspora.

B: The State shall act to preserve the cultural and historic heritage of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.

C: The State shall stretch out a hand to members of the Jewish people in trouble or in captivity due to the fact of their Jewishness.

9 — Preserving heritage

  1. Every citizen of Israel, regardless of their religion or nationality, has the right to actively preserve their culture, heritage, language and identity.
  2. The State may allow a community, including followers of a single religion or members of a single nationality, to establish a separate communal settlement.

10 — Official calendar

The Hebrew calendar is an official calendar of the State.

11 — Independence Day and memorial days

A: Independence Day is the national holiday of the State.

  1. Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars and Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day are official memorial days of the State.

12 — Days of rest

The established days of rest in the State of Israel are the Sabbath and the festivals of Israel, during which no employee shall be employed except under conditions set in law. Members of [religious] community groups recognized by law may rest on their festivals.

13 — Hebrew law

Should the court encounter a legal question that demands a ruling and be unable to find an answer through [existing] legislation, legal precedent, or direct deduction, it shall rule in light of the principles of freedom, justice, integrity, and peace contained in the heritage of Israel.

14 — Protection of holy site

The holy sites shall be protected from desecration and all other harm, and from anything that may hinder access to their holy places for members of a religion, or that may offend their sentiments toward those places.

15 — Immutability

This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to Apartheid Jewish Nation State Law in Israel (Norms and Social Practice)

  1. Berel Dov Lerner says:

    Now all you have to do is recall the actual meaning of the term “apartheid” and reconsider whether you really want to post this.

    • zjb says:

      Apartheid refers to an anti-democratic regime or culture predicated on the “separation” of and the non-inclusion of populations based in law and exclusion based on some social privilege.

      • dmf says:

        always surprised how people can’t grasp this pretty straightforward description , I can see how they might rationalize it but to deny it? so it goes with cognitive-biases I suppose, what a species we be…

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