When progressive American Jews, including our organization, protested the anti-democratic, discriminatory Nation State Law passed by the Knesset two years ago, Israeli officials and members of their US echo-chamber said we were overreacting to legislation that merely stated the obvious.
When we warned that this law would serve as a platform for deeper discrimination of non-Jewish Israelis and for further anti-peace policies, they reassured us that the law is declarative in nature, that it merely reiterates Israel’s being the national homeland of the Jewish people.
Reality in Israeli courts today proves that we were not alarmists. This law does in fact serve to institutionalize, normalize, and legalize discrimination of Israel’s non-Jewish minority.
The most recent manifestation of this highly disturbing phenomenon is the case of two Israeli Arab schoolchildren, who live with their parents in the majority-Jewish northern town of Carmiel. Approximately 6% of Carmiel’s residents are Arab citizens, not enough to open an Arabic language school to serve them. Students are therefore driven to schools in neighboring Arab communities. The two brothers, aged 10 and 6, sued the Carmiel municipality demanding to be reimbursed for the travel expenses. The municipality refused, and a local Magistrate's Court dismissed the lawsuit by citing the Nation State Law’s article that calls for the encouragement of “Jewish settlement” in Israel, or, in the language of the law, “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will work to encourage and advance its establishment and consolidation.” The Court contended that reimbursing the students, or, alternatively, establishing Arabic language schools in Carmiel, would hinder the Jewish character of the town and therefore violate this principle asserted in the Nation State Law.
This case is not an isolated exception. Fifteen petitions have been filed with Israel’s Supreme Court against the Nation State Law and its application in Israeli jurisprudence. Because the law is considered a Basic Law (akin to a constitutional law, because Israel does not have a constitution), it serves as reference to anchor court rulings.
Having vehemently opposed the bill before it became law, and having warned of its grave consequences once it passed the Knesset, we at Americans for Peace Now follow with horror the way in which this law is being weaponized to further discriminate against Israel’s Arab population and to push Israel further down a non-democratic path.
We will continue to work for the repeal of this anti-democratic and unjust law. And we call on the incoming Biden administration to join the call for Israel to live up to its democratic vision and aspirations.