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Claiming Israel Is the “Nation State of the Jewish People” Is Widely Criticized

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2015

In November, a proposal for a basic law “Israel, the Nation-State of the  
Jewish People” passed in the Israeli Cabinet by a vote of 14-6, with two  
centrist coalition parties opposing it. For the bill to become law it must  
be approved by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.  
There is much opposition to this proposed legislation by those who argue  
that it would make Israel’s non-Jewish citizens — 20 per cent of the  
population — less than equal. Ahmed Tibi, a veteran Arab member of the  
Knesset, says that that there has long been tension between the halves of  
the term “Jewish democracy,” as Israel defines itself. He notes that the  
proposed legislation simply confirms that the Jewish and democratic state is  
fiction.” He described Israel instead as a “Judocracy” that would never  
recognize the collective rights of “a minority that has long suffered  
The proposed Nationality Law makes clear that even the limited democracy  
which Israel now enjoys is under serious threat. Editorially, The New York  
Times (Nov. 25, 2014) declares that, “Since its founding in 1948, Israel’s  
very existence and promise has been based on the ideal of democracy for all  
its people. Its Declaration of Independence, which provides the guiding  
principles for the state, makes clear that the country was established as a  
homeland for the Jews and guarantees ‘complete equality of social and  
political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or  
sex.’ That is why it is heartbreaking to see the Israeli cabinet approve a  
contentious bill that would officially define Israel as the nation-state of  
the Jewish people, reserving ‘national rights’ only for Jews … To go back  
and emphasize nationality and religion in defining the country … runs  
counter to the long-term movement among liberal democracies toward a more  
inclusive vision of a state … Having experienced the grievous legacies  
created when a government diminishes the rights of its people, we know this  
is not the path Israel should take.”  
Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan argues that, “Saying Israel is  
a Jewish state in the sense of race would be analogous to insisting that the  
U.S. is a ‘white’ state and defining Latinos as ‘brown.’ And saying it is a  
Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting  
that the U.S. is a Christian state even though about 22 per cent of the  
population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as  
non-Jews in Israel) … Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or fundamentalist  
and is objectionable from an American point of view on human rights grounds  
either way.”  
Avi-noam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, said  
that any distortion of the balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic  
character “may stain Israel in the eyes of the free world and distance  
diaspora Jews.”  
Writing in Washington Jewish Week (Nov. 27, 2014), Israeli journalist  
Sarabeth Lukin notes that, “The bill upends the concept of Israel as ‘a  
Jewish and democratic state’ and downgrades democracy to a secondary status.  
It declares that Israel is first and foremost ‘the nation-state of the  
Jewish people,’ providing all of Israel’s 8 million citizens with the vague  
promise that they will be afforded ‘personal rights in accordance with every  
law.’ The proposed law also declares that only the Jewish people enjoy the  
right to national self-determination and that housing can be determined by  
religion or nationality. And if Jewish law, Halacha, takes precedence over  
civil law in both legal and legislative proceedings, as some scholars  
interpret the bill, Israel will find itself in the company of other  
theocratic Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.”  
Beyond this, the claim that Israel is the “nation-state” of “the Jewish  
people,” is an ideological construct that has no relationship to reality.  
The “nation-state” of American Jews is the United States, just as the  
“nation-state” of British Jews is the United Kingdom and the “nation-state”  
of French Jews is France, etc.  
If Israel seeks genuine peace, it should content itself with being the  
nation of all of its citizens and abandon the myth that it is the “nation-  
state” of Jews who are citizens of other countries. •

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