Dr. Naomi Sussmann
Research Fellow
25.06.2013 by Dr. Naomi Sussmann
25.06.2013 Research

Basic Law: Israel — Nation-State of the Jewish People

The proposed Basic Law, currently advanced by Likud-Beiteinu and the Jewish Home parties, is a dangerous attempt to overwrite the Declaration of Independence, replacing the vision of Israel's founders with a sectorial vision that undermines the original values of Zionism

This report is not yet available in English in full.

“Basic Law: Israel, nation-state of the Jewish people” is a law both illegitimate and dangerous. It is illegitimate because its formulators and backers are attempting to do what law and legislation cannot and need not do—i.e. decide on issues of profound controversy regarding identity, culture, and society. It is dangerous because it functions as a fiat—an attempt to bypass the democratic public debate on issues at the heart of the State of Israel and establish facts to be forced into any future constitution.

The formulators and backers of this law present it as a natural continuation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. However, as demonstrated in this report, it is in fact diametrically opposed to that document: it seeks to change the substantive definition of the State of Israel, from a state that is the national home of the Jewish people and simultaneously home to the rest of its citizens to a state where all the Jews of the world are its potential citizens while its non-Jewish citizens are discriminated against. The aim of this law is to shunt the civic vision of the state’s founders in favor of an alternative, explicitly sectarian vision which, for all intents and purposes, undermines the values of Zionism and its original goals.

Laws, including Basic Laws, are not meant to deal with issues of identity and substance in the first place: their purpose is to delineate the rules of the game by which the debate over such matters should proceed, nothing more. The proposed law not only fails to reflect this understanding of law and its nature but goes so far as to seek to change the rules of the game themselves. In doing so, it functions as a constitution without serious debate on its suitability to this end, and without considering the conditions that the adoption of a constitution would require.

The very attempt to decide questions that touch on deeply controversial issues of identity, culture, religion, and heritage among citizens and varying communities through legislation—all the more so, through legislation of a Basic Law—is unfair and therefore inappropriate. It reflects the attempt by a group that enjoys the advantage of political power to impose its will and narrow worldview on the entirety of society. Given the disputes that abound within Israeli society surrounding the notions of Judaism and citizenship, and given the complex nature of the society itself, clearly the proposed law cannot be based on broad civic agreement. But this kind of agreement is a prerequisite for the establishment of a constitution and no constitution should be legislated without it, however formulated. Those who support the rule of law in Israel and the need to arrive at a broadly agreed-upon constitution must therefore act to shelve this law.

Read the full position paper in English

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