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Case Analysis 24 July, 2018

What does the “Jewish Nation” basic law mean?

Azmi Bishara

General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies (DI). Bishara is a leading Arab researcher and intellectual with numerous books and academic publications on political thought, social theory and philosophy. He was named by Le Nouveau Magazine Littéraire as one of the world’s most influential thinkers. His publications in Arabic include Civil Society: A Critical Study (1996); On The Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Manifesto (2007); To Be an Arab in Our Times (2009); On Revolution and Susceptibility to Revolution (2012); Religion and Secularism in Historical Context (in 3 vols., 2013, 2015); The Army and Political Power in the Arab Context: Theoretical Problems (2017); 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. His latest publication titled The Question of the State: Philosophy, Theory, and Context (2023) with a second volume forthcoming in 2024 titled The Arab State: Beginnings and Evolution.

Bishara’s English publications include Palestine: Matters of Truth and Justice (Hurst, 2022); On Salafism: Concepts and Contexts (Stanford University Press, 2022); Sectarianism without Sects (Oxford University Press, 2021), among other writings. His trilogy on the Arab revolutions, published by I.B. Tauris, consists of Understanding Revolutions: Opening Acts in Tunisia (2021); Egypt: Revolution, Failed Transition and Counter-Revolution (2022); and Syria 2011-2013: Revolution and Tyranny before the Mayhem (2023), in which he provides a theoretical analysis in addition to a rich, comprehensive and lucid assessment of the revolutions in three Arab countries: Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.

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.