Another view of Israel’s Nation State Law

The recently passed Nation State Law has received a lot of publicity and not a little controversy since it was voted into law last week. Being a follower of Yeshua, a concerned citizen and a member of a minority group; I had hoped and prayed that this proposed legislation would not become law. To my sorrow, it was passed into law, albeit by a very narrow margin. The essence of the Nation State law is to ensure that the Jewish population in Israel will exclusively be the recipients of full civil rights, that Orthodox Jewish religious tradition will be the sole source for legislation concerning cultural and civil affairs, which in effect prioritizes Jewishness over democracy. The fact that the issue of minority rights is absent from this legislation is alarming. It needs to emphasized that this new law is a “Basic Law” and as such is enshrined alongside Israel’s Declaration of Independence. As a Basic Law this legislation provides a conceptual framework for future legislation. Basic Laws are very difficult to rescind.

Some view this law as merely codifying and legitimizing what has become the status quo in the country. The law does reiterate much of the content of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. What is not stated in the law is in some ways more disturbing than what is stated. Minority rights are not mentioned; leaving opening for non-implementation of equal rights for all citizens of which there are over 2 million non-Jews who are Israeli citizens. This law gives priority to Jewishness in terms of both religion and ethnicity. According to this law, Judaism determines national holidays and influences curriculum for education. Jewish ethnicity determines status and certain civil rights. Regarding Messianic Jews, who are a much smaller minority than the Arab population, the already difficult situation with immigration is likely to become even more problematic.

All minority groups in Israel have reason to be concerned, including Messianic Jews. In Orthodox Judaism Messianic Jews, regardless of their ethnicity and certified pedigrees, are routinely categorized as no longer Jewish on account of their faith in the divinity of Jesus/Yeshua. Not even the adherence of some Messianic Jews to traditional Jewish observance and life style is enough for the Orthodox establishment to accept Messianic Jews as truly Jewish. Our faith is the stumbling block upon which they repeatedly fall.

For the large non-Jewish Arabic speaking citizens of Israel this new law is yet another means of reducing their status to that of second-class citizens. Although it is the right of a sovereign government to downgrade a national language, and it and is not without precedent, (Turkey, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ukraine, Gabon, etc.); national downgrading of a major language seems always to be linked to political concerns. In this case, to downgrade Arabic is clearly an instance of Israel asserting Jewish cultural dominance. This is perceived as an affront and insult to the minority Arabic speaking population

The most controversial clause, the “settlement clause,” was removed hours prior to the final vote. For this I am thankful. Had it remained it would give credence to claims that Israel is increasingly racist and would legalize discriminatory policies. There is much opposition to discrimination against certain segments of Israeli society (the LGBT community for example) and this clause would allow the creation of communities based on exclusion of undesirable, unwanted population groups.

While the offensive clause was eliminated, point seven of the law states, “The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”

By passing this Nation State law as a Basic Law of Israel, the foundations of democracy are undermined. Given the total absence of reference to non-Jewish minority populations, the primacy of Jewishness is now inscribed in law which will become the basis of further legislation. A number of major terms (like Israel and settlement) are not defined. This can easily lead to a broad implementation of the basic concepts included in this law. Until now, civil rights and equality have been part of our ethos as the people of the Book. As a citizen of the country and as a member of a minority group (Messianic Jewish) that has experienced prejudicial action and legal efforts to deny access to full civil rights, I am deeply concerned for the future of Jewish ethics and values in Israel.