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Case Analysis 24 July, 2018

What does the “Jewish Nation” basic law mean?

Azmi Bishara

Azmi Bishara is the General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS). He is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. A prominent Arab writer and scholar, Bishara has published numerous books and academic papers in political thought, social theory, and philosophy, in addition to several literary works, including: Civil Society: A Critical Study (1996); On the Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Statement (2007); Religion and Secularism in Historical Context (3 volumes 2011-2013); On Revolution and Susceptibility to Revolution (2012); The Army and Political Power in the Arab Context: Theoretical Problems (2017); Essay on Freedom (2016); Sect, Sectarianism, and Imagined Sects (2017); What is Salafism? (2018); The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh): A General Framework and Critical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon (2018); What is Populism? (2019) and Democratic Transition and its Problems: Theoretical Lessons from Arab Experiences (2020). Some of these works have become key references within their respective field.

As part of a wider project chronicling, documenting, and analyzing the Arab revolutions of 2011, Bishara has also published three key volumes: The Glorious Tunisian Revolution (2011); Syria's Via Dolorosa to Freedom: An Attempt at Contemporary History (2013) and The Great Egyptian Revolution (in two volumes) (2014). Each book deals with the revolution’s background, path, and different stages. In their narration and detail of the revolutions’ daily events, these volumes constitute a key reference in what is known as contemporary history along with an analytical component that interlinks the social, economic and political contexts of each revolution.

The basic law titled "Israel the nation state of the Jewish People" first presented on July 22, 2013, was passed by the Knesset in its third reading on July 18, 2018, following five years of parliamentary debate and non-substantial amendments. The bill was discussed by the Israeli media, human rights institutions, law professors, as well as MKs several times during this period. The initial proposal came from a Kadima MK, Avi Dichter, previously director of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency - Shabak), and was supported by a group of right-wing parties. Ultimately however, the law passed after Benjamin Netanyahu personally adopted it, in his alliance with Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, which represents the extremist nationalist religious trend in the Knesset and Israeli society. At the top of the Home Party's agenda are "national missions" such as the new legislation, other legislations concerning the "Jewishness" of the state, and the renewal of the Zionist settler project by encouraging unrestrained building of settlements in the occupied territories. The party is also home to right wing extremist and justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, who submitted her own proposal for the new legislation. The final bill is thus an amalgamation of the various proposals and amendments.

This paper looks to the final draft and the background of the law, without delving into all the proposals that have been "softened" to camouflage the racism ingrained in the final version. This was mostly done for the sake of Israel's international reputation, in order to circumvent legal challenges, and the satisfaction of the Israeli judiciary and Attorney General. Although the style and structure of the bill has seen minor changes over time, the background and motives of the main proponents, as well as the law's sponsors, no doubt remain the same.