New York, NY, July 19, 2018 … The Anti-Defamation (ADL) today expressed strong concern over the Nation-State Law passed by the Israeli Knesset. In a letter sent last week to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ADL had urged the government to push for the “reformulation of elements in the bill that could undermine Israel’s cherished democratic character, exacerbate relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs as well as those between Israel and Diaspora Jews, and indeed, impair Israel’s international reputation.”
The Nation-State Law will become one of Israel’s Basic Laws, which is akin to a constitution that underpins Israel’s legal system. The law is aimed at strengthening the Jewish character of the state, but includes elements that potentially could impact the status of non-Jewish citizens of Israel, specifically Israeli Arabs, as well as Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry.
The law does represent an important step forward to enshrine the Jewish character of the country, notably with regard to state symbols like the anthem, flag and capital Jerusalem; as well as in reaffirming that the State of Israel is open to Jewish immigration. However, there are problematic elements that might lead some to question its commitment to pluralism. Among the concerns is the provision that stops short of stipulating Arabic as an official language and obliquely denotes it will have “special status.” Additionally, the law stipulates that only in the Diaspora will the State of Israel act to preserve the bond between the State and the Jewish people, but not within Israel itself.
Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO & National Director and Carole Nuriel, ADL Israel Director issued the following statement:
While there are provisions that we agree with - notably with regard to state symbols like the anthem, flag and capital Jerusalem; as well as in reaffirming that the State of Israel is open to Jewish immigration - we are troubled by the fact that the law, which celebrates the fundamental Jewish nature of the state, raises significant questions about the government’s long-term commitment to its pluralistic identity and democratic nature.
Israel has a long and commendable record of respect for and protection of the rights of all its citizens including its ethnic and religious minorities, but provisions in the law could impact these protections. Additionally, the bill stipulates that only in the Diaspora will the State of Israel act to preserve the bond between the State and the Jewish people, potentially undermining existing Israeli government commitments to religious pluralism.
Now that this law has been passed by the Knesset, the State of Israel has an obligation to ensure that, in practice, this Basic Law is not used to discriminate against minorities, particularly its Arab citizens, and that the state maintains its commitment to improve relations between Jews in Israel and those around the world.
ADL first questioned an earlier iteration of a Nation-State bill when it was first introduced in 2014. In May 2017, ADL commented on the Arabic language clause saying that “Israel's diversity is source of strength. Removing Arabic as an official language harms efforts to build shared society.”