Explained: Why Israel’s controversial nation state law was challenged by the Supreme Court

About two years after Israel passed its controversial nation-state law, the country’s Supreme Court met on Tuesday this week for a special session to hear a petition from Arab-Israeli citizens and rights groups calling for demolition. of this law. The petition calls for a statement that the articles of this law are unconstitutional, especially those relating to Israel’s official language and land-assignment laws, which the petitioners claim are discriminatory towards non-Jewish citizens.

It has been a tumultuous year for the government of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and for the leader himself. Israel is expected to hold its four elections in two years after the country’s two main parties in its national unity government failed to meet a deadline in a dispute over the government’s budgets.

In the midst of this, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has aimed for a sixth term in the country’s highest office, while facing mass protests this year from citizens demanding his resignation. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the leader’s problems, with protesters also accusing him of mishandling the epidemic.

What is the law of the nation state?

Informally known as “national state law,” the “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” is one of the 14 basic laws or constitutional laws of the State of Israel. The law allows Israel to identify itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people and promotes the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. When it was enacted in 2018, it downgraded Arabic from official language status to one that had a special status.

Among other clauses, it also allows the development of Jewish settlements. One of the first clauses of this law says: “the State of Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination” and that the “right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel it is unique to the Jewish people. “

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Which groups are affected by this law?

The law is symbolic and declarative, but critics argue that it specifically discriminates against the Arab minority in the country and excludes other communities that call homeland.

In 2019, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reported that 74.2% of the population declared themselves Jewish, while 17.8% declared themselves Muslim, 2% Christian and 1.6% Druze. The remaining 4.4% includes faiths such as Baháʼí etc. And those who do not belong to any of the recognized faiths of Israel.

One of the main signatories of this bill, Akram Hasson, an Israeli Druze politician who served as a member of the Israeli Knesset from 2012-2019, has been a vocal critic of this law. In 2018, when the law was first promulgated, Hasson said the law was “extreme” and discriminated against minorities in Israel. This week, local news publication The Media Line quoted Hasson as saying, “I want the court to change the articles that hurt the Druze community and all minorities in Israel.”

Druze can be found in Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and are an Arabic-speaking community. They do not identify as Muslims and have their own distinct religious practices. “We have no other country or alternative land, we have lived here since before the state was established, we have a blood and life bond with the Jewish people,” said Hasson. “We serve in the military and dedicate our lives to protect Israel. This law classifies me as a second-rate citizen, despite the fact that I am loyal and a lover of Israel and respectful of its values ​​and symbols. “

What did the Supreme Court of Israel say?

The petition is still being heard, but during Tuesday’s session, the court questioned whether the law actually violated basic laws such as freedom and human dignity, The Media Line reported.

The court said that although the law “may not contain the language that some of us were hoping for”, and that “it would have been preferable if the term ‘equality’ had entered it”, eliminating a basic law passed by parliament was an “extreme and unprecedented measure”, according to the news.

None of Israel’s core laws have been invalidated by the country’s courts, and legal experts believe the Supreme Court is unlikely to intervene in this case. Any changes to this law would involve consideration of whether these laws actually violate the principles of democracy and freedom in the country.