Americans need to understand the Middle East
How much do we really know?

At The Media Line, we value all points of view and aim to mend our differences through fact-based narrative-inclusive journalism Help support our bold and brave team in Afghanistan, Gaza, Israel, Palestinian Territories, the UAE, and beyond.
Help us continue our work and provide access to the news that matters to you.

Thank you and best wishes to you and yours for this Jewish New Year.
Felice Friedson
Founder, President
Jewish Nation-State Bill Stirs Backlash, But Lawmakers Defend Israel’s Right to Exist
(Photo by Pool/Israeli Prime Ministry Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Jewish Nation-State Bill Stirs Backlash, But Lawmakers Defend Israel’s Right to Exist

Israeli-Arabs feel discriminated against after their language is demoted

After hours of heated debate in its parliament, Israel was officially declared the state of the Jewish people.

The controversial Nation-State Bill, which was passed last Thursday in a vote of 62-55 with two abstentions, also declared Hebrew as the only official language, ranking it above Arabic, which has for decades been recognized equally.

In response, Arab lawmakers erupted in protest. One ripped up the printed text of the bill in front of the speaker’s podium while another waved a black flag.

“Since the recognition of the State of Israel 70 years ago, it was conditioned on the need that Israel and Palestine should be a bilingual state,” Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, Co-executive Director of the Abraham Fund Initiative, an Arab-Jewish NGO, told The Media Line. “They didn’t do us a favor by officially giving us our Arabic language before. It was an international community solution.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the backlash and reiterated his belief that the new law merely codifies what is already widely accepted as a given. “We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people which respects the individual rights of all its citizens.… In recent years,” he continued, “there have been some who have attempted to place this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law: this is our nation, language and flag.”

According to Dr. Emmanuel Navon, an International Relations lecturer at Tel Aviv University, the new law still grants Arabic “special status,” meaning that “because it is the language of 20 percent of the population, Arabic is recognized and protected.”

Navon explained that Israel was a nation-state just like others throughout the world such as France and Germany where the French speak French and the Germans speak German. Israel, he said, only sought to define its national identity quasi-constitutionally.

The most contested clause in the bill, which would have allowed the establishment of communities based on religion and nationality, was replaced at the last minute. The new provision reads: “The state sees developing Jewish settlements as a national interest and will take steps to encourage, advance and implement this interest.”

Lawmakers amended the bill after legal advisers warned that a clause sanctioning housing based on ethnicity and religion was discriminatory and could paint Israel negatively in the international arena.

“It will place Israel in a delicate situation with its allies in the U.S., the EU and Canada, etc.,” the Abraham Fund Initiative’s Abu Ras said. “They could not possibly support such a racist law when Israel is supposed to be a democratic country.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently pushed the importance of the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state in any peace agreement, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists that having recognized the State of Israel is sufficient and that he will never acknowledge it as anything more.

While Israeli-Arabs make up about one-fifth of the country’s population of nine million, they complain of discrimination in education, health and housing, despite having equal rights under the law.

Yossi Mekelberg, Professor of International Relations at Regent’s University in London, contended to The Media Line that Arabs living in Israel have never been under the illusion of being equal. “This [law] is something to send them a clear message. It tells them directly that they are not equal citizens,” he said.

Moreover, Mekelberg believes that the bill is a religious-nationalistic strategy to increase power among ultra-Orthodox Jews. “It is my fear that secularism is becoming smaller and more marginalized,” he said.

“We will ask for assistance in Israel’s Supreme Court,” Abu Ras revealed in reference to a possible push to have the law overturned. “If that does not work, then we will reach out to the international community.”

Tel Aviv University’s Navon pointed out that Jews’ right to self-determination was still being challenged internationally and domestically. He said that until the passing of the Nation-State Bill, the country’s highest court had no constitutional basis to reject petitions that contest Israel’s Jewishness.

(Nola Valente is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

Did you know we’re celebrating our 20th Anniversary as the 1st American News Agency exclusively covering the Middle East?

  • The Middle East landscape is changing rapidly.
  • The roads in the region open to new possibilities.
  • The Media Line continues to pave the way to a far greater understanding of the region’s land, people, policies and governments through our trusted, fact-based news.

We’re an independent, ad-free, non-profit news agency and rely on friends like you!

Please make your gift today.
Thank you!

We paved the way to be the Trusted Mid East News you can rely on!

We’re an independent, ad-free, non-profit news agency and rely on friends like you!

Invest in the
Trusted Mideast
News source.
We are on the
front lines.

Personalize Your News
Upgrade your experience by choosing the categories that matter most to you.
Click on the icon to add the category to your Personalize news
Browse Categories and Topics
Wake up to the Trusted Mideast News source Mideast Daily News Email
By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.
Wake up to the Trusted Mideast News source Mideast Daily News Email
By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.