07 February 2019, The Tablet

On Israel and the ‘nation state’

On Israel and the ‘nation state’

Israel’s ‘nation state’ law passed last year has drawn criticism from many quarters, including Catholics in the Holy Land. But the Church should be reticent about engaging directly in politics

Last July the “nation-state” law, recognising Israel as the historic homeland for the Jewish people, was passed in the Knesset by a vote of 62 to 55 with two abstentions, after months of tense argument. Affirming Israel’s Jewish status is not new; in May 1948, the founders of the state declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”. But the new law will be a basic part of Israel’s quasi-constitution.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured), said after the passage of the vote: “This is a defining moment in the history of Zionism and in the history of the State of Israel: 122 years after [Theodor] Herzl shared his vision, we have established into law the fundamental tenant [sic] of our existence. ‘Israel’ is the nation-state of the Jewish people. A nation-state that respects the individual rights of all its citizens; and in the Middle East, only Israel respects these rights. This is our state, the state of the Jews.”

There are 1.8 million Arabs in Israel, about 20 per cent of the total population. The head of the Israeli Arab Joint List in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, denounced the vote as “the death of our democracy”. He added: “[The Knesset] has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens”.

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