Amend the Nation-State Law. Now.

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Israel's non-Jewish minorities—particularly those who are fighting and dying for the State of Israel—are worthy of appreciation and recognition, not separately, but as equals. The solution is to amend the Nation State Law, not to pass a new, separate basic law as is currently under consideration.

Photo by David Cohen/Flash90

The Israeli Druze are loyal citizens of Israel, serving alongside their Jewish peers in the IDF—fighting and dying for the nation of Israel. The death of Druze soldiers in IDF combat in Gaza, along with Hamas' murder and abduction of Bedouins on October 7, bring to light the major flaws of Israel's Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (more commonly known as the "Nation-State Law"), passed in 2018 declaring Israel as the state of the Jewish people, with absolutely no mention of Israel's non-Jewish citizens.

A central feature of every democracy is protecting the rights of minority groups, particularly in ethnic nation-states that have a constitutional commitment to equal rights for all citizens. Given that Israel is the state of the Jewish people—a people that has been a persecuted minority for thousands of years—it really should display greater sensitivity to the minority groups within it. This is particularly true when it comes to the Nation-State Law, which has quasi-constitutional status in Israel and constitutes an important part of Israel’s formal ethical identity. It is therefore critical for this basic law to give the country’s non-Jewish citizens a feeling of belonging, of partnership. Israel is the home of all its citizens, and this needs to be clearly stated.

The Nation-State Law is now once again the subject of public debate, but not because of what it contains. Most of its clauses are important and worthy of inclusion in the State of Israel’s constitution. The problem is what it omits: It leaves out any reference to minorities, equality, democracy, and the Declaration of Independence, and thus undermines the delicate balance between Israel’s twin character as both a Jewish and a democratic state.

The principle of general equality in Israel (not to be confused with the principle of equal protection under the law) is not laid out in the country’s basic laws. A basic law seeking to define the character of the state which does not incorporate the principle of equality for all its citizens is highly problematic in a democracy. As it is, equality is not an absolute value. This is what the Declaration of Independence has to say on the matter:

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.

The balance inherent in the Declaration of Independence, between the State of Israel as a Jewish state and the guarantee of rights and equality for all, is lacking in the Nation-State Law; indeed, the law makes no reference to the Declaration at all. The time has come to amend it.

My contention is not with the nation-state issue. The State of Israel is irrefutably the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which the right to self-determination of the Jewish people is realized. This is what is stated in the Declaration of Independence, and this is how the State of Israel has conducted itself since it was established.

But Israel is not only a Jewish state. It is a Jewish and democratic state. The Nation-State Law accurately addresses the essence of the State of Israel—its core values, its identity, and its characteristics. But it omits any mention of the state’s democratic character, relating only to one of the values in the equation, and thus casts doubt on the accepted and familiar terminology of “Jewish and democratic.” Since the establishment of the State of Israel, a delicate balance between these two values has always been maintained.

But instead of making the necessary amendments to the law, Knesset members are seeking to advance a new basic law relating solely to the Druze community. Not equality, not democracy, not the Declaration of Independence, but instead a basic law—a law of constitutional status—specifically and separately for the Druze. Israel’s Druze citizens are worthy of proper recognition and appreciation, not separately, but as equals.

Instead of treating all Israel’s citizens equally, and instead of bringing them together and uniting them, the current initiative seeks to divide Israeli society into its component ethnic and religious groups. If this basic law is passed, what will be the status of Israeli citizens who are not “Jewish” and not “Druze”? At this time, when it is so clear that we all share a common fate, there can be no avoiding the question: How are the IDF’s Bedouin soldiers and officers supposed to feel? And what should the many members of Arab society (Muslims, Christians, and others) feel who form part of the backbone of the country’s health system, which serves all of Israeli society? Instead of stating that all of Israel’s citizens are equal, we are continuing to divide and to marginalize.

The Nation-State Law is the answer. If the Knesset were simply to add what is missing from the Nation-State Law, it would take nothing away from the essence of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Its wording should be based on the broadest possible consensus in order to reflect the core beliefs of as many sections as possible of Israeli society. It is precisely because of the great divisions in Israel society, and the many ideological differences, that it is so important for us to have something in common. Unfortunately, the 2018 Nation-State Law did exactly the opposite. It is highly regrettable that this great opportunity was missed back then. Now is the time to make amends.


This column was published in the Jerusalem Post.