This is a new Basic Law, with a status similar to Constitutional Amendments in the American system. Laws and policies that violate the Basic Laws are considered to be unconstitutional in the Israeli system.
The law strongly favors Jews and Judaism over others living in Israel, in contrast to the guarantees of equality articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch has called the law “tribalism at its worst” and has pointed out that “it is a slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
The law was intensely debated. The special Knesset committee with jurisdiction for this law met for long sessions five times in the course of one week to hammer out the final text.
Under normal rules, the bill would have been reviewed by the Constitution Committee, but MK Benny Begin – who holds one of Likud’s seats on the Constitution Committee – strongly opposed the law. Without his vote, the coalition would not have been able to move it through the normal committee process. The special committee was formed to circumvent Begin’s influence.
Rights for Jews-Only
- The law states that “the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people” and nowhere does it mention that Israel is a democracy. Earlier versions had identified Israel as a Jewish state “with a democratic regime.” That formula was seen as subverting the democratic character of Israel to its religious and national identity.
- The law states that “the right to national self-determination within the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” This clause – and other elements of the law – are inconsistent with Israel’s Declaration of Independence which promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
- The law establishes that “Jewish settlement” is a “national value,” and that Israel would “encourage” its development. It is unclear at this point as to whether this clause will enable the government to create Jewish-only towns and cities. Existing law allows for small villages to reject new residents. The “Acceptance Committees Law” was passed by the Knesset in 2011 and upheld by the High Court in 2014. Now this practice enjoys some constitutional protection.
- Nowhere in the law is the principle of equal protection under the law upheld, and some parts of the law, such as the provision defining “Jewish settlement” as a “national value,” could be interpreted as allowing discrimination. This was not an overlooked detail or a mishap, but one of the key purposes of the law. Knesset Member Tzipi Livni has publicly said that the Prime Minister refused to consider the inclusion of the word “equality” in versions of this law considered during her tenure as Justice Minister.
- Earlier versions of the bill included a “heritage” clause that, by creating a right for citizens to protect their culture, jeopardized court precedents that barred discrimination along religious, ethnic, gender, and socio-economic lines. Court rulings that guaranteed that women could not be forced to sit at the back of the bus, for instance, could have been overruled by claims that segregating men from women is a part of the Jewish “heritage.”
- Earlier versions of the bill explicitly established the government’s right to create and enforce segregated towns on basis “including” of religion and nationality. While this clause seemed to be aimed at allowing Jewish-majority towns to discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel, many feared that this clause would also justify discrimination against others, such as Mizrahi Jews and Russian-speakers who have faced discrimination in land and housing policies in the past.
Judaism and Jewish Law
- The law establishes a responsibility for Israel to the welfare of Jews outside of Israel. Earlier drafts spoke of Israel’s responsibility to Jews “everywhere.” This change was intended to deny any obligation by the State to Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist Jews within Israel.
- Earlier drafts had established that Jewish religious law would be among the considerations of the Israeli judicial system.
- The law establishes that the “entire and united” Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This clause may complicate future negotiations over a two-state solution.
Official Languages and Symbols
- The law gives constitutional force to a number of symbols of Israel by stating that “the state flag is white with two blue stripes near the edges and a blue Star of David in the center” and that “the state emblem is a seven-branched menorah with olive leaves on both sides.”
- The law states that “the state’s language is Hebrew” and “the Arabic language has a special status in the state,” downgrading Arabic from its previous status as an official state language just as Hebrew was.
MKs Who Voted For the Nation-State Law
Yehuda Joshua Glick
Oren Asaf Hazan
Merav Ben Ari
Uri Yehuda Ariel
Eli Ben Dahan
Yoav Ben Tzur
United Torah Judaism
Menachem Eliezer Moses
MKs Who Voted Against the Nation-State Law
Yael Cohen Paran
Eyal Ben Reuven
Yehiel Hilik Bar
Talab Abu Arar
Abd Al Hakeem Haj Yahya
Wael Younis (since resigned)
MKs Who Abstained
Benny Begin (Likud)
Orly Levi-Abekasis (Independent)
MKs Who Were Absent
Tzipi Hotovely (Likud)
Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union)
- Text of the bill (unofficial translation).
- Position Paper by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
- Position Paper by Kolech and the Center for Women’s Justice (Hebrew)
- MK Benny Begin’s explanation for his vote against the bill (Hebrew)
- Letter by President Rivlin.
- MK Benny Begin’s explanation for his vote against the bill (Hebrew).