The Knesset passed early Thursday, July 20, the highly controversial and racist Jewish Nation-State Law that officially defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and asserts that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” In a stormy Knesset plenum session, 62 lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation and 55 opposed it.
The new Basic Law which, as such, has constitutional status and which formally defines the nature of the State of Israel makes no mention of equality and democracy. Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel roundly condemned the passage of the law, saying that it constitutes a “nail in the coffin” of Israeli democracy.
The Nation-State Law includes clauses stating that “united Jerusalem” is the capital of Israel and that Hebrew is the country’s only official language, a designation which had previously been shared by Hebrew, Arabic and English. Another clause states that, “The state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
The bill passed after a long and vociferous session that began in the afternoon during which lawmakers voted on ‒ and rejected ‒ hundreds of reservations presented by the opposition that objected to different parts of the legislation.
The sponsor of the far-right law, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (formerly Minister of Internal Security and director of the Shin Bet security services), turned to the predominantly Arab MKs of the Joint List in the final address before the vote and told them: “We were here before you, and we will be here after you.”
Immediately after the law passed, Joint List lawmakers tore up copies of it in protest, and were subsequently removed from the Knesset plenum hall. Hadash Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, Chairman of the Joint List, released a statement saying that Israel “declared it does not want us here” and that it had “passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”
As they left the Knesset plenum, MKs from the Joint List confronted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman shouted at Netanyahu: “You have passed an apartheid law; a racist law.”
Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) assailed the law’s passage in a statement he released: “The Nation-State Law is the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Israeli democracy which has been dying in recent years, suffering as it has from the chronic disease of racism, compounded by fascism and which has now been transform to Apartheid through the passage of this law.”
Towards this week’s vote, MK Touma-Sliman posted a video on her official Facebook page in which she said: “Now, as we begin the debate on the Jewish Nation-State Bill in the Knesset, the extreme right wing of Zionism has finally placed the official stamp of Apartheid on the Israeli regime.”
As part of the protest against the law, Peace Now activists waved a black flag in the Knesset balcony during the debate, until security guards made them leave the auditorium. MK Odeh also raised a black flag during the debate against the legislation. “As [the 1956 massacre] in Kafr Qassem was a blatantly illegal order, with a black flag flying over it, so is a black flag hoisted today over this evil law,” he said.
“I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy,” Hadash Dov Khenin (Joint List) said after the vote. “There is no doubt the Nation-State Law is the lowest point in the chronic illnesses that have plagued democracy. The funeral will take place today in the plenum.”
Several thousand protesters marched through central Tel Aviv last Saturday night to protest the bill, calling it racist and discriminatory. Under the banner “This is home for all of us,” public figures, Hadash and Meretz MKs and social activists addressed the demonstration, which saw participants marching from Rabin Square to Dizengoff Center.
Addressing the crowd, MK Odeh, said that what is most frightening to the right wing government is that Jews and Arabs can live together. “The Nation-State Bill won’t make us disappear, but it will greatly harm democracy,” he said. “This large protest was an important step in the fight against fascism.
“Racist legislation of a government that fears power; of a majority that tramples the minority, will not remove us. The thousands who have come here are hope for a state of equality and peace,” Odeh said.