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Case Analysis 24 July, 2018

What does the “Jewish Nation” basic law mean?

Azmi Bishara

General Director and Member of the Board of Directors of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Dr. Bishara is a researcher and writer with numerous books and publications on political thought, social theory and philosophy, as well as some literary works. He taught philosophy and cultural studies at Birzeit University from 1986 to 1996, and was involved in the establishment of research centers in Palestine including the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy (Muwatin) and the Mada al-Carmel Center for Applied Social Research. In 2007 he was forced to go into exile after being prosecuted by Israel. In 2002 he won the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought, and in 2003 the Global Exchange Human Rights Award. He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1986 at Humboldt University in Berlin, having previously completed his master’s degree there in 1984.

Dr. Bishara has published hundreds of papers and studies in academic journals in various languages. His best-known publications include: On the Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Manifesto; Civil Society: A Critical Study; Religion and Secularity in Historical Context (two parts in three volumes); On Revolution and Revolutionary Potential; Is There a Coptic Issue in Egypt?; To be an Arab in our Times; The Army and Politics: Theoretical Problems and Arab Models; Essay on Freedom; Sect, Sectarianism and Imagined Sects; What is Salafism?; and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh): A General Framework and Critical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon. Some of these books have become seminal works in their field.

He also produced a series of three books documenting the Arab revolutions that broke out in 2011: The Glorious Tunisian Revolution; Syria: The Painful Road to Freedom; and Egypt’s Revolution (two volumes). These books deal with the causes and stages of the revolutions in Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt. These books are a rich contribution to the field of contemporary history thanks to their combination of documentation and narration of the day-to-day details of these revolutions and sharp analysis making connections between the social, economic and political backgrounds of each individual 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.