About The Nation-State Law

Givat Haviva and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Israel embarked on The Locals – Eye Level Dialogue in 2019, to reach audiences in the heart of Israeli society, who had not given any thought to the effect of the Nation-State Law and its implications on Arab-Palestinian citizens and on Israeli society at large. The campaign features videos of Arab-Palestinans from different vocations who are involved in Israeli society. We felt it was important to show the Israeli public how the interviewees felt about the Law. We did not presume to offer concrete solutions, rather tried to evoke interest and conversation on the subject, in hope of encouraging understanding of the problematic situation and its effect on the citizens of the country.

Mohammad Darawshe – Director of Strategy, Givat Haviva:

“The inspiration for the project’s name came to me from a book written by Dr. Sara Osetski-Lazar and the journalist Yoav Stern, where they went back to several Arab-Palestinian Israeli citizens who had been interviewed by David Grossman 25 years earlier for his book “Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel”. The purpose of both books was to present the normative Arab-Palestinian citizen to the Jewish society, not the stereotype, and discuss the issues openly and at eye level. Following the Nation-State Law, I felt the need to talk to the Jewish public about it personally rather than leaving this discussion to the politicians, who are good at creating clashes, which lead to a worse polarization between the two societies. The Law legitimizes social and economic discrimination, blocking any vision of equality between Jews and Arabs, contrary to the promise made by the founders of the state to the first generation of Arab-Palestinian citizens that Israel would be an equal and democratic country. It is our intention to maintain this dialogue that is so lacking in the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs in this country, showing people who want to live in their country in peace, equality, dignity, self-esteem and mutual appreciation. I want you to get to know us – the Arab-Palestinian citizens who want a shared life based on common interests, honest dialogue, and the desire to live together. I want us to talk about what stands in the way of this aspiration, much of which is expressed in the rationale that yielded the Nation-State Law. You are under no demand to accept any of the positions and statements, but please, open your heart and your mind, even for a few seconds, just to get to know us.”

Yaniv Sagee, Executive Director of Givat Haviva 2013-2021:

These days, we’re marking a year since the passage of the Nation-State Law as one of Israel’s basic laws. Givat Haviva Center for Shared Society in Israel sees this law as opposing the aspiration of creating a shared and equal society of Israel’s Jewish and Arab-Palestinian citizens. There are a number of components in this Law that increase the discrimination and exclusion suffered by the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel. Its goal is to allow the courts to favor the state’s Jewish identity over its democratic regime where these two values collide. It is my understanding that by accepting this Law, the Knesset of Israel has decided to deviate from the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, reshaping the nature of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, in which democracy is secondary to its Jewish essence. One element found in the Declaration of Independence is sadly lacking in the Nation-State Law, which is the explicit mention of full and equal citizenship as a source of equality for all citizens, including the Arab minority. This lack constitutes a message of unequal citizenship between Jews and non-Jews, especially Arabs. This might cause Arabs to reject democratic procedures, which will ultimately end Israeli democracy. A democracy in which one fifth don’t vote as a matter of principle due to discrimination, is not worthy of the title democracy. Givat Haviva continues to go full steam ahead in its endeavors to help create a shared and equal society in Israel. Last year, we could already see how the Nation-State Law was affecting Arab-Palestinian citizens’ sense of belonging and their relations with Israel’s government. We saw how the Law was affecting the younger generation, who attend our educational programs, and we saw the beginning of its negative effect in shared public spaces. We are not standing idly by – we have extended our Arabic teaching programs around the country, adapted our educational programs, and eventually came out with “The Locals” project – in order to ensure public awareness of what this Law is causing Arab society, thus stirring consciousness throughout Jewish society. In May 2015, in his keynote address to the Givat Haviva Conference, President Ruvi Rivlin said: “We Jews and Arabs were not doomed to live together, we were destined to live together!” This is our destiny, this is the future of the State of Israel, and it’s gravely compromised by the Nation-State Law.

Judith Stelmach, Project Manager for Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Israel:

Equality is fundamental among the values of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, for no democracy can exist without it. We further believe that for the sake of Israeli society’s resilience, an open, dignified, and forthcoming dialogue must exist between all parts of society, so all of us can understand each other better, thus promoting a better reciprocal relation between all citizens and reinforcing society’s cohesion.

The Nation-State Law has stirred up agitation in vast parts of Arab society, as well as among some Jewish people. However, many Jews and Arabs remained indifferent, perhaps due to lack of information.

We want to turn the attention of these people to the meaning of this Law for the Arab minority in Israel, and in fact to all Israeli citizens. It is our hope that through an eye-level dialogue between Jews and Arabs, we’ll manage to promote solidarity and understanding, which will allow all of us to feel equal in this place which is our shared home – Israel.

About the Nation-State Law

A basic law: the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish nation

Much has been said about this Law being an intentional deviation from the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, designed to reshape the nature of the State of Israel as a Jewish state whose democratic characteristic is secondary to its Jewish essence. But what is this claim based on?
Israel’s Jewish identity trumping its democratic one, and the disregard of the principle of equality
The most problematic point of this Law is that it elevates the state’s identity as a Jewish nation-state to a fortified, constitutional level, neglecting to afford the same status to its democratic identity and the principle of equality before the law.

In absence of a clear recognition by the Law of absolute equal rights for every non-Jew, this Basic Law that determines the identity of the state, shows a disregard of its democratic nature and the values of the Declaration of Independence. The lack of that reference sends a message of unequal citizenship between Jews and non-Jews.
The message to the non-Jewish citizens is that the state is not their home; it’s not theirs. The writers of the Declaration of Independence had their reason for adding general civil elements with an explicit reference to Israel’s Arab citizens to their strong emphasis on Israel as the state of the Jewish nation. Doing so, they called upon Israel’s Arabs “to join in the effort of building the state, based on full and equal citizenship and on appropriate representation in all its temporary and permanent institutions.”

It’s important to stress that because the Nation-State Law defines the state as Jewish, which entails the exclusion of non-Jews – people who have no way of belonging to the Jewish nation – we are doubly obligated to be fair to the minorities and treat them equally.

In the constitutions of countries that define themselves as nation-states, when it is explicitly stated in the constitution that this is a state of a “specific” nation, in addition to the reference to equality, which is self-evident and can be found in every constitution, there is a specific reference to the fact that such a country is also the state of its minorities, or some such ruling, by which being a nation-state may not compromise minorities’ rights.

Let us stress here that these stipulations are placed in the preamble asserting the state’s identity.

This is the case in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and even Hungary, which is experiencing a nationalist trend – all of them made a point of explicitly stating this in their constitutions. But here, in Israel, the Nation-State Law was passed, and this ruling is nowhere to be seen.

The exclusion of the Arab society and the compromising of the status of the Arab culture and language.

  • The law totally ignores the existence of the Arab minority in the State of Israel. What is an Arab citizen to think when they see how this Law, which is referred to as a basic law, even a keystone for our future constitution, declares that Israel belongs uniquely to the Jewish nation – meaning to all the Jews in the world – but not to the Arabs who live in it?
  • The Law’s only reference to Arabs relates to the Arab language. However, this reference is in place specifically to annul its status as a second formal language, calling it instead a language of a “special status.”
  • In such a Basic Law, so focused on the majority’s collective rights, we see a total disregard of minorities’ collective rights and any intention to promote their culture and heritage within the State of Israel. This right was demanded by Jews in the diaspora before the foundation of the State of Israel, and it is still demanded today by diaspora Jews, and rightly so. However, it is inconceivable that minorities in the Jewish state will not be given the same rights.

Jewish Law will be used as inspiration to new legislation and court ruling

The attempt to “re-write” the Declaration of Independence is made clear by calling “self-determination” a “religious right” (section 1b), creating a new and different set of values from the original document.

In this context, a religious aspect is added to the natural and historic right of the people of Israel and to the UN assembly’s self-determination resolution, by which the foundation of the State of Israel was declared.

This “addition” can have grave implications as to the character of the state and the justification of reinforcing religion’s influence.

Israel is thus “painted” as a religious state, which could facilitate the use of religion to justify exclusive and oppressive actions, discrimination against different groups, and religionization in education as well as in the public sphere.

The state will take steps to establish settlements within its borders, but will not commit to building for other nationalities.

Under section 7, “the state considers Jewish settlement a national value, and will take steps to encourage and promote the foundation of such settlements.”

This section of the Law is in place for the sole purpose of justifying the establishment of uniquely Jewish communities. Unlike other sections in this Law, directly stemming from the national nature of the state, and with no direct implications on human rights, this Law seems to authorize – nay, demand – that where settlements and building communities are concerned, the state discriminates between its citizens based on their ethnicity, which is expressly counter to the principle of equality between citizens.

This section indicates that this Basic Law was constituted for the purpose of discrimination against Arabs where it hurts most – settlements and land.

To download the full Nation-State Law – click here