On Monday, April 30, the Knesset voted in a first vote on an updated version of the “Nation-State” Bill. This proposal would create 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 bill strongly favors Jews and Judaism over others living in Israel. It would establish mechanisms to deny equal rights to non-Jewish citizens of Israel in land and housing policies, would interject Jewish religious law into court decisions, and would undo Israeli court precedents that barred discrimination along religious, ethnic, gender, and socio-economic lines.
The bill now returns to the Knesset committee for further debate and amendment. Three Knesset Members, from the governing coalition, including MK Benny Begin (Likud), took the unusual step of defying the coalition’s decision and voting against the bill.
The bill underwent a number of revisions shortly before the Knesset recessed in mid-March. This paper outlines those changes.
Key Anti-Democratic Provisions:
- Nowhere in the legislation is Israel identified as a democracy.
- The right of every citizen to equal protection under the law is not guaranteed. Israel’s High Court has inferred that such a right exists based on previous basic laws, but other provisions of this bill that contradict that right might upend those decisions.
- The bill explicitly establishes the government’s right to create and enforce segregated towns on the basis of religion and nationality. While this clause seems to be aimed at allowing Jewish-majority towns to discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel, many Israelis fear that this clause may also justify discrimination against others, such as Mizrahi Jews who have faced discrimination in land policies in the past.
- The bill establishes a right for upholding every resident’s “heritage.” Legal observers believe that this clause would legalize discrimination against women, LGBT Israelis, and others. This is because many traditional cultures — including in Israel — are patriarchal. Legal precedents that have allowed women into combat roles in the IDF or that have kept women from being forced to sit on the back of public buses would be jeopardized.
- The bill downgrades Arabic from an official language to a language with a “special status.”
Other Significant Provisions:
- The bill establishes that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and that national self-determination within the state of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people.
- The bill gives constitutional force to a number of symbols of Israel (the flag, the emblem).
- The bill establishes that the “entire and united” Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
- The bill establishes a responsibility for Israel to the welfare of Jews outside of Israel.
Key Changes from the Previous Version:
- Israel is no longer defined as a “Jewish state,” but nor is there any mention of Israel as a democracy or any reference to the values articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
- The requirement for courts to rely on Jewish religious law as the basis for legal decisions was removed.
- Jerusalem was described as Israel’s capital in the previous version. The new version describes “the complete and united Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital.
- A clause calling for the protection of, and guaranteeing access to, holy sites was removed.
- 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)