Netanyahu’s ‘Jewish state’ law angers Arab Israelis

Jerusalem

Leaders of Israel’s Arab minority have reacted with fury to plans by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to spearhead legislation defining Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people”.

Arab Israelis say the law will pave the way for discrimination against them to be entrenched in law.

Liberal Israeli Jews are also warning that Mr Netanyahu’s announcement that his government intends to “provide a constitutional anchor for Israel’s status as the nation state of the Jewish people” is “undemocratic”.

Mr Netanyahu says that a Basic Law is necessary because enemies of Israel are trying to challenge the historical, legal and moral basis of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

Taleb al-Sanaa, a former MP, responded yesterday: “This initiative is very dangerous to democracy and pushes the Arab public beyond the borders of the state in a legal sense. It perpetuates the inferiority and marginalisation of the Arabs and is a sure prescription for confrontation. It represents a parting of the waters between the Arab public and the state of Israel.”

The Arab citizens of Israel, who number a fifth of the population, comprise Palestinians who remained behind when their compatriots were expelled or fled when Israel was established in 1948. They have the right to vote but regularly face discrimination from authorities. For example, while hundreds of new cities, towns and localities for Jews have been established since 1948, not a single new Arab town has been created (aside from the seven settlements built specifically for the Negev’s Bedouin residents, which have been the source of considerable controversy). Traditionally Arab citizens have sought redress in Israel’s Supreme Court.

Yariv Levin, the coalition chairman from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, says that a Basic Law delineating the Jewishness of Israel is needed to “return Israel to the Zionist path” after years in which the Supreme Court issued rulings that went against Israel’s Jewish identity.

In a draft law Mr Levin prepared, Israel is delineated as the national home of the Jewish people and it is stated that the right of national self-determination in Israel is exclusive to the Jewish nation. Israel, it continues, is the Jewish people’s historic homeland, without mention being made of it as a historic homeland for its Arab citizens.

Jafar Farah, director of Mosawa, a non-governmental organisation that promotes equality for the Arab minority, predicts that legal discrimination will now become more pronounced. “This will mainstream racism and discrimination and marginalisation of the Arab community and give us the feeling that we are not only second-class citizens but a fifth column,” he said.

Galia Golan, a member of the dovish Meretz party, says “the implication is that everyone else is a second-class citizen. By implication you are excluding others when the whole basis of democracy is pluralism and equality. In that sense, it’s undemocratic.

“It amounts to sending a message to your minority, that was here to begin with, that they have no place here,” she added.

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