Position Paper: the Nation-State Bill

The Knesset

In recent years, several bills have been proposed that seek to enshrine into a Basic Law Israel’s definition as the nation state of the Jewish People. Despite slight differences between the proposed bills, they are essentially identical; they seek to redefine the identity and character of the State, prioritizing its Jewish character over its democratic character. These proposals explicitly violate human rights, democracy, and the minority rights of Arabs in Israel. The issue of defining the character of the State is an important legislative matter with many far-reaching consequences.

Among the grave violations that arise from the bill (including the most recent version currently being discussed in the 20th Knesset):


  • Subjugation of the democratic character of the state to its Jewish character: The original articulation of the bill proposed for the state to be defined first and foremost as a Jewish state, and for basic laws to be interpreted accordingly, along with all other laws. It was proposed that the term “democracy” be secondary, subordinate, and interpreted in accordance with the State’s primary existence as a Jewish state. In the articulation that passed the first reading, the definition of the state as a Jewish or democratic state was omitted, as well as the clause that imposed the interpretation of all legislative matters as subordinate to the Jewishness of the state, yet the entire bill still addresses anchoring the Jewish characteristics of the state and their preference over democratic symbols. In fact, the law does not enshrine any democratic principles, neither in terms of the structure of the regime nor in terms of the protection of human rights and equality. Moreover, no non-Jews are mentioned in the law, including the Arab minority, they are neither recognized nor are their rights protected.


  • Revocation of Arabic as an official language: Reduction of the status of the Arabic language as an official language, as was the case from the founding of the State to date, to the status of a language with special standing, solely to realize linguistic accessibility for state services. While the articulation of the first reading that passed included a commitment that lowering the status of the Arabic language would not negatively impact the current situation, the implications of this commitment are yet unclear. Beyond violation of the status quo, this is a violation of the basic rights of a national native minority in Israel. The Arabic language is part of the identity, heritage, and culture of the Arab minority, and its recognition as an official language symbolizes the recognition of its rights and equal status in the state.


  • Anchoring racial discrimination: the proposition involved permitting separation of residences on the basis of religion or nationality in a sweeping and unconditional manner, in a manner that contradicts the Ka’adan ruling prohibiting discrimination, and the Admissions Committees Law, which permitted solely limited separation. The bills include additional discriminatory provisions, and open the door to introducing further and broader practices of racial discrimination in all spheres of life.

As noted above, despite changes in wording that were introduced into the bill following public criticism, the proposal emphasizes and gives preference to Jewish characteristics of the state over democratic ones. Such a basic law’s erosion of the status and essence of democracy is likely to undermine the human rights of all citizens of the state. In addition, it will violate the rights of the Arab minority, which comprises one-fifth of the citizens of the state, destroying the foundation of the right to equality, thus constituting a mortal blow to democracy, of which civil equality is a pillar.

ACRI’s position is that defining the nature of the state is an important constitutional matter with far-reaching implications, which must be resolved to the greatest extent possible through broad agreement with all its contingent challenges, through taking into account the needs and rights of the population’s various groups. Any definition adopted must enshrine the right of all citizens of the state to absolute equality, regardless of nationality, religion, or ethnic origin. This does not negate the legitimate ties that may exist between religion and nation on other levels, such as social, cultural, emotional, and symbolic levels; however, in the field of constitutional law, the principle of equality requires that these linkages must not distinguish between the rights and statuses of various citizens in accordance with their national or religious identities, vis-à-vis the state.

Status: On November 23, 2014, the government approved bills proposed by members of Knesset Ze’ev Elkin, Ayelet Shaked, and others. However, it was agreed that these proposals would not be advanced beyond an initial reading, and instead a government bill whose principles were approved by the government on the same day would be advanced (the “Netanyahu Outline”). This bill was not advanced.

A bill proposed by Knesset member Avi Dichter was placed before the Knesset in 2011, 2015, and 2017. The proposal was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on May 7, 2017, and was approved in a preliminary reading in the plenum on May 10, 2017.

In September 2017, a special committee established for this purpose began discussing the bill. Following an agreement reached by coalition parties on the articulation of the bill, it was approved in its first reading on March 13, 2018.

In September 2017, a special ministerial committee established for this purpose began discussing the bill. Following an agreement reached by coalition parties on the articulation of the bill, it was approved in its first reading on March 13, 2018.

At this stage it is yet unclear whether there will be agreements in the coalition that will enable the bill to be advanced for second and third readings. However, it is important to note that passing a first reading of the bill enables the Knesset to approve it in an ongoing fashion, thus continuing to promote it from the same point, without having to re-propose it and re-initiate discussions on the matter.


The text of the bill passed on first reading, March 2018 available here (Hebrew)

Click here to read ACRI’s position paper published by ACRI’s Policy Advocacy Director Adv. Debbie Gild-Hayo and ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel Adv. Dan Yakir

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Categories: Anti-Democratic Initiatives, Arab Citizens of Israel, Democracy and Civil Liberties

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