ARZENU’s Response to the Bill on Basic Law: Israel – Nation-State of the Jewish People

Honorable Ministers,

  1. In the name of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and based on the opinion of our partners overseas, we turn to you regarding the above-mentioned matter with grave concern. As you know, a legislative move to set a basic law relating to the identity of the State of Israel reached its height with the government approval of two private laws – MK Elkin’s law P/19/2502 and the proposal by MKs Shaked, Levin and Eiltov, P/19/1550. According to media reports, the government decision states that following their approval in a preliminary reading, these bills will be aligned with a bill presented by the Prime Minister, based on the principles document which was published on his behalf.
  2. The principles document was presented as a softened version compared with the private bills, and it indeed preserved the legal phrase: “a Jewish and democratic state” and avoids a distinction between the status of the Hebrew language and that of the Arabic language. However, a deeper reading of the document reveals great similarities between it and the two private bills and lacking answers to many of the flaws presented in these two bills.
  3. Below you will find the problems we see in the principles document. These problems are detailed at length in the attached position paper.
  4. We believe that it would have been more appropriate to all together avoid a nation-state legislation in its current format (as presented in the opinion by Prof. Ruth Gavison). It is definitely appropriate to avoid legislation as that presented to the government at this time. In any case, only a deep legislative process, based upon a broad parliamentary and public debate, and which aspires to create a cross-party front (as was done when legislating the basic laws in 1992) can lead to the formalization of an appropriate basic law regarding the identity of the State of Israel. This is especially true during this time, characterized by increased tension between the Jewish and Arab public and within various sectors of the Jewish public.
  5. The main flaw we identify in the principles document is the violation of the critical balance between Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. Alongside the justified recognition of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, where we fulfill our right to national self-determination, the principles document only mentions the fact that Israel is a democratic state without mentioning that this obligates the State to be based on values of human dignity, equality to all its citizens regardless of religion, race, national origin, language and gender and that it respects human rights. The lack of these basic principles is especially evident considering the detailed list that does appear regarding principles and expressions of the Jewish identity of the State. In this state of affairs, one cannot be satisfied with a general and unclear definition regarding Israel’s democratic character.
  6. The principles document gives an unprecedented status to Jewish law (Halacha) in its Orthodox interpretation as a source of general inspiration to the actions of the legislative branch. The mere presentation of a religious legislative system as a source of inspiration to the Knesset’s democratic decisions is inherently wrong. This is especially so considering that Israeli legislation has no other sources of inspiration, not even a mention of the declaration of independence. In the future, this section could have a real effect on legislative processes and the alignment of Knesset laws with the test of legal judgment. It is enough to contemplate the impact of such a definition on legislative processes regarding “who is a Jew” in order to understand the repercussions. A further expression of this matter is the provision of a legal status to one set of components of public education in Israel – exposure of students to Jewish history, legacy and tradition, without giving other vital components of public education (civics and democracy, for example) a similar status.
  7. The principles document completely ignores the collective rights of the Arab and Druze citizens of the country. The document only mentioned the individual rights of citizens, including preservation of their culture and identity, but does not mandate the state to actively work to maintain the heritage of these minority groups. It is precisely in a law which emphasizes the right of the Jewish people for self-determination that it is completely appropriate to also give attention to the existence of ethnic-national-religious communities with a natural affinity to the land.
  8. The principles document ignores the need to advance values of tolerance, co-existence and social solidarity between all citizens, and especially in the public sphere and through national symbols. The legal anchoring of the “HaTikvah” national anthem, the blue and white flag and the Menorah emblem, as well as Independence Day and memorial days is appropriate and necessary. However, a legislative move which seeks to emphasize values of shared citizenship would explicitly keep, for instance, the right of the legislator to add national symbols and holidays which are meant to express the common denominators between all citizens of the country. Additionally, it would have been possible to express these values and objectives in the purpose sections and basic principles of the legislation.
  9. All the mentioned-above flaws place a question-mark on the existence of a substantial difference between the principles document and the original bills and sharpen the potential damage from advancing such a law. As a Zionist movement, we believe that the principle of a national homeland for the Jewish people is worthy of clear legislative anchoring, which will fortify the status of a Jewish national homeland in Israeli society and around the world. However, this must all be done as part of an all-encompassing move which emphasizes Israel’s democratic character as well as its Jewish one, and it commitment to all its citizens, including their culture and individual and collective rights. A partial action, which ignores additional basic principles of Israel’s identity and the values on which it was founded, will gravely hurt Israeli society’s cohesion and will cause serious damage to the State’s image and to its centrality as a source of inspiration and pride for world Jewry.

Sincerely,

Anat Hoffman, Head of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC)

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Adv., IMPJ Executive Director

Rabbi Prof. Yehoyada Amir, Chair, MARAM – Israel Reform Rabbinic Council

 

Click here for the Principles Document

Click here for the Position Paper

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