In 2014, a bill was proposed in the Knesset that would add to Israel’s Basic Law—which functions in lieu of a constitution—a declaration that Israel is “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” together with a series of provisos in support of that definition. After causing much controversy, and having been tabled and reintroduced several times, the bill has now returned to the Knesset’s agenda in revised form, with a vote scheduled for today. David M. Weinberg argues that much of the criticism of the proposal is disingenuous, incoherent, or both:
Tzipi Livni, [an influential Knesset member from the center-left Kadima party], fulminated this week that the proposed law “discriminates against our Arab minority,” is rooted in “radical nationalism,” and is sponsored by “extremist elements of the right wing.” . . . Such inflammatory rhetoric is doubly duplicitous. It’s false because the current legislation is unremarkable compared to many European constitutions with even stronger national-homeland provisions and is considerably softer than [the] original version, especially in regard to [defining the rights of Arab citizens of] Israel.
The wild rhetoric against the bill is also deceitful because left-wing peace activists are constantly touting Israel’s existential need to remain a Jewish state when justifying the call for Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. In fact, “preserving Israel’s Jewishness” is so important to the withdrawal chorus that its leaders are willing to pay a very high price for it, including the surrender of historical and religious sites and the expelling of 100,000 or more Jewish settlers from Judea and Samaria. . . .
The Jewish people’s right to live in its homeland like other nations should be obvious and self-evident. But today the state of Israel’s identification with Jewish nationhood is under attack from large parts of the international community and from Israeli-Arab [politicians], Palestinians, post-Zionist Jews, and anti-Jewish Jews. Therefore, Jewish self-determination in the land of Israel and the Jewish character of Israel need to be enshrined in constitutional form. . . .
The Jewish side of the formulation “a Jewish and democratic state” has been under internal assault as well. The delicate balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters has been particularly upset over the past 25 years by the Israeli supreme court. . . . [Many of the most significant] cases [before the court] called for a delicate balancing act between Israel’s democratic-liberal character and its Jewish-national character. But in fact no such balance was achieved because Israel’s Jewish character, unlike its democratic character, is not anchored in any basic law, and thus the liberal court could willfully, easily, and explicitly discount the “Jewish” pull in these cases.