Posted on March 27, 2013

Israel to Define Itself as ‘National State of Jewish People’–Despite Arab Population

Robert Tait, Telegraph (London), March 17, 2013

The move is likely to be denounced as weakening Israel’s democratic principles while triggering accusations of official discrimination against Arabs, who form around 20 per cent of the population.

The legislation is being proposed under an agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Beiteinu bloc and the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, who will form part of a new governing coalition along with two Centrist parties.

It will be enshrined in Israel’s Basic Law–the country’s equivalent of a constitution–and lay down that The State of Israel is the National State of the Jewish People.

“Such legislation won’t be seen as democratic by universal standards,” said Tamar Hermann, a senior researcher with the Israel Democracy Institute. “But the people arguing for it will say that as long as the non-Jewish citizens have rights from an individual point of view, it’s Kosher.”

A similar bill introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, was shelved amid an outcry over provisions that included recognising Hebrew as the sole official language while depriving Arabic of its equal status.

It also strictly defined the country’s flags, emblems and national anthem while requiring the state to promote Jewish settlement in all areas. No such requirement applied to other groups.

Proponents argued that it was aimed at preventing Israel becoming a bi-national state. Critics countered that it prioritised Israel’s Jewish identity ahead of its democratic values.

In a sobering message for President Barack Obama ahead of his arrival in Israel on Wednesday, the Likud Beiteinu-Jewish Home deal made no mention of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Jewish Home party’s leader Naftali Bennett opposes a Palestinian state and instead favours annexing large parts of the West Bank.

The new government, which will be sworn in at a ceremony on Monday in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, also includes two parties in favour of renewed talks, Yesh Atid and Hatnua, led by the former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

But its official guidelines do not mention the “two-state solution” advocated by the US and EU countries, including Britain. Instead, they state: “Israel will seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the goal of reaching a diplomatic agreement.”

It was confirmed on Sunday that Moshe Ya’alon, a former army chief-of-staff who supports a hard line on the Palestinians, would become defence minister, replacing Ehud Barak.

Mr Ya’alon, 62, is a strong supporter of Jewish settlers in the West Bank but has urged caution on the possibility of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, in contrast to the more hawkish stance taken by Mr Netanyahu.