By Pratheeksha Gopinath
After a long delay of seven years, the Israeli government has finally decided to pass the contentious basic law that declares Israel as ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people.’ The long withheld bill will be fast-tracked into an official statute in the coming weeks. Being hailed as a threatening factor to Palestinians, the bill can be the beginning of a new era. Having had received the approval of the parliament’s justice committee, the bill now has gained a lot of significance. Political analysts are viewing it as the ‘Zionism’s Flagship Bill’. The approval of the final draft by the Key Knesset Committee has rendered the bill more important than any normal legislation. With the promulgation, Israel has officially ruled out the faintest chance of being a Western-style democracy in the future. Critics now call it as an “ethnocracy”, a non-democratic type of state.
The story behind the bill
The Palestinians form the largest minority group in Israel. One out of every five in Israel is a Palestinian. Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Parliament described it as the institutionalisation of the apartheid in the most blatant manner. The current Government intends to establish its supremacy through the consolidation of the Palestinian lands. Hailed as ‘the law of all laws’, the Bill facilitates the annexation of Palestinian lands that are under occupation in East Jerusalem and West Bank. It is actually a major step towards the legal seizure of these minority-occupied lands. The first version of the bill was introduced by Avi Dichter in 2011. He is the member of Likud party which is headed by the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The proposed bill had raised eyebrows due to its underlying anti-democratic provisions. It took several redrafts for the bill to finally get approved. The final version of the bill caters to the needs of the Jewish majority.
The bill demotes Arabic from being the official language. Arabic is the mother-tongue of nearly one-fifth of the population. The bill declares Hebrew as the official language of the nation. Safeguarding the interests of the Jews, the bill excludes the 1.8 million Palestinian citizens from all benefits. The mission of Israel has been to ‘ingather the exiles’. Upholding this mission, the bill focusses upon safeguarding the rights of the Jewish diaspora abroad. Restricting immigration to just the Jewish communities, it completely discards the interests of the Palestinian citizens. The bill has underpinned the Jewishness of the State. All elements of a secular democracy have been dispelled. It has clearly shown that Israel from now on would be the ‘Nation-state of the Jews.’ The bill brings clarity and removes all anomalies in the political governance. Considering themselves as different from all other nations, the Jews believe that the bill would put the country back on the right path.
Reservations with the proposed bill
But some critics have viewed the passing of the bill as unnecessary. Even though the bill clarifies certain things, nothing remarkably new has been established. Israel has always been very overt about its pro-Jewish policies. 93 percent of the land has already been reserved for Jews from all over the world. The law of Return allows for the exclusive immigration of Jews. The dwindling numbers of people speaking Arabic indicate towards the established Jewish supremacy in the land. Arabic has almost lost its sheen. Hebrew has taken over as the main medium of communication. Israel even before the promulgation of the bill had been very vocal about its Jewish priorities. Therefore, some believe that the bill was not needed as there was nothing to be threatened about. But some factors triggered the passing of the bill.
Israel passed the Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity in 1992.The law defined Israel as ‘Jewish and Democratic’. Political analysts questioned whether a state could be Jewish and Democratic at the same time. Many legal rights groups filed cases against the government for fostering prejudices. The Government was accused of discriminating between its own citizens. The law was seen as a violation of the principle of equality. The Government was highly embarrassed by the legal battles. The contradicting claim of being both a Jewish and a Democratic state seemed impossible. In 2000, a Palestinian citizen named Adel Kaadan sued the government for not permitting his stay in the area earmarked for the Jewish communities. The case reached the Supreme Court where the governing committees of these Jewish areas were questioned. Israel harbours nearly 700 exclusively Jewish communities. Each community has an ‘admissions-committee’ that governs the admission process. The committee has been rebuked for its policy of admitting only the Jews. It was condemned for blocking the access for non-Jews. The State was almost along the lines of following a residential Apartheid policy. Excluding just a small chunk of twenty percent of the land, all other areas of Israel showed the signs of residential Apartheid. The legal battles turned ugly and invited bad publicity. Israel was heavily criticised at various world platforms.
Something had to be done in order to put an end to the extended legal cases. So the Netanyahu Government in 2011, closed these cases with the provision of a statutory basis to the admissions committee. Yet the growing bias against Palestinians drew a lot of criticism. Therefore the redrafts were necessary to defend the government in its claim of being purely a Jewish nation. The Kaadan case mainly led to the passing of the Basic Law. In 2006, the Palestinian leaders urged the Government to convert into a consensual democracy. They put forward a document named Future Vision that upheld the principles of a civic democracy. They demanded a reform in the governance which would assure equal rights to its citizens. But this didn’t go down well with the authorities. Shin Bhet, the secret police agency of Israel publicly declared to stymie any further development in this regard. Azmi Bishara, the leader of the democratisation campaign was accused of treason. He was forced into exile for his pro-democracy campaigns. The Police Agency swore to thwart any activity that would promote the reform. In the aftermath of the campaign, the Israeli Government decided to pass the Expulsion Law which allowed for the overthrowing of Palestinian members of the Parliament by their Jewish peers. It was passed with the intention of destabilising the position of these Palestinian politicians.
The effect on Israel
As of now, the Jewish Nation state Bill has been linked by the Justice minister Shaked to the revisions being made to the Basic Law that deals with legislation. This would render the power of Judicial Review void. The government will have the power to reverse any Supreme Court ruling that would be against the legislation being passed. With the judicial review rendered null and void, any legislation can be passed in spite of it being a complete violation of human rights. The Judiciary can no longer intervene in the Government’s decisions. Shaked called it ‘indispensable’ as the previous court rulings had never served the Jewish interests. The basic law would provide the Jews exclusively the right to self-determination in the area. Israel has not yet defined the borders and the legislation would facilitate the continued annexation of Palestinian lands in occupied West Bank. It plans to snatch away the residency rights from the Palestinians settled in occupied East Jerusalem. It wants to establish a Jewish Majority in Jerusalem. The law would allow for the legal expulsion of Palestinians. Netanyahu wants the entire region of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. With the support from the US, Israel would be able to achieve its end of being an All-Jewish State. But the real question is whether Israel would be able to hold on to its contradicting claim of becoming ‘A Jewish-Democracy.’
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