19 Israel Radically Alters Its Constitution with New Law
Israel has passed a new law which critics say completely turns its back on the democratic principles set in the original “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” passed in 1948 and formalizes it as a country only for Jews.
The law, which passed July 18 in the Knesset by a vote of 62 to 55, officially limits the right to self-determination to Jews. Despite protestations of the government to the contrary, it also downgrades the status of Arab languages. Now Hebrew is the only official state language.
Under the bill, which has the status of what is called a basic law – like a constitutional law in other countries, “the right to exercise national determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”. It further defines a series of main principles to stand as the core of the Israeli state, including the flag, the national anthem, the country’s capital and its language.
The bill further formally promotes the “establishment and consolidation” of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.
With the law in place, it officially sets any non-jews living within the country as second-class citizens in one way or another. Critics are calling it no less a travesty for the country than the concept of apartheid was in South Africa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the law’s passage as a major milestone for the country. “With this law we determined the founding principle of our existence,” he said as quoted in Haaretz. “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people.”
As the law was passed, critics called what happened a gross betrayal of Israel’s founding 1948 Declaration of Independence. In that document, which the world applauded after the horrific treatment of the Jewish people during World War II and before, the brand-new government called for a society designed to “foster the development of the country to the benefit of all its inhabitants”. It went on to say that the new government “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”.
Arab MPS present at the voting were visibly angry. They destroyed their copies of the bill right after it was passed and stormed out of the chamber. “You passed an apartheid law, a racist law,” said MPS Ahmed Tibi and Ayeda Touma-souliman from the Joint List, a coalition of Arab-dominated parties in the Israeli Parliament. Tibi slammed the laws passage with the words, “I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy.”
The Arab representatives were not the only ones registering their complaints. Prior to the bill’s passage, 14 American Jewish organizations had sent their concerns to the incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog. Herzog had expressed major concerns that “the fine balance between a Jewish and democratic state” would be hurt.
According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, only 74.5% of the 8,855,000 inhabitants of Israel and occupied territories are Jewish, which leaves over 2 million non-jewish targets for abuse by Jews.
With this new law in place, the pretense that Israel is a democracy and not an oppressive Jewish state is gone. The question is what Israel's non-jews and the rest of world will do about it.