On July 19, 2018, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial new law called “The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People”.Among its eleven provisions,it describes Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people”and says the right to exercise national self-determination there is “unique to the Jewish people”.It also reiterates the status of Jerusalem under Israeli law, defining the city, part of which is claimed by the Palestinians, as the “complete and united… capital of Israel”. The law singles out Hebrew as the “state’s language”, effectively prioritizing it above Arabic which has for decades been recognized as an official language alongside Hebrew. That said, it ascribes Arabic “special status” and says its standing before the law came into effect will not be harmed. In one of its clauses, the law stresses the importance of “development of Jewish settlement as a national value”, though it is unclear whether this also alludes to settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, praised the passage of the bill as a “defining moment”. “A hundred and twenty-two years after (the founder of modern Zionism Theodore) Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence,” he said.”Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and respects the rights of all of its citizens.”
In the Knesset, Arab MPs reacted furiously with one waving a black flag and others ripping up the bill. One Arab MP described it as “apartheid” – the state-sanctioned racial discrimination of black people during white-minority rule in South Africa. Reaction around the Arab world was also vehemently opposed to the new law. The following day, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), citing what it said was an official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Saudi Arabia “rejects and disapproves” of the law. The source said the law contradicted provisions of international law, the principles of international legitimacy and the principles of human rights and would obstruct efforts toward a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The source called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities and confront the law and or other Israeli attempts aimed at perpetuating racial discrimination against the Palestinian people, distorting its national identity and compromising its legitimate rights”. The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani also condemned the law. He said the GCC considered it to be “racist”. Dr. Al-Zayani called on the United Nations and other international organizations to shoulder their political and legal responsibilities to demand that Israel abide by UN resolutions and stop the implementation of the new law.
The bill has been under discussion since it was first introduced in 2011 and has undergone multiple amendments. Some Israeli Jewish politicians consider that the founding principles of Israel’s creation, as a state for Jews in their ancient homeland, are under threat and could become less relevant, or obsolete, in the future. Fears over the high birth-rate of Israeli Arabs, as well as possible alternatives to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which could challenge Israel’s Jewish majority have spurred on calls to anchor the Jewishness of Israel in law. Israel has no constitution but instead passed over time a series of Basic Laws which have constitutional status. The “nation state” law is the 14th such basic law. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, arguing that the Palestinians have long recognized the State of Israel and should not be expected to go further.