Critics of nation-state law ‘mistaken and misinformed,’ Netanyahu advisor says


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisor for world communities said in an op-ed that critics of the nation-state law that passed last month in the Knesset often are “mistaken and misinformed.”

“The accusations about the new law’s effects on Israeli democracy have no connection to the actual content or context of the law,” Sara Greenberg wrote in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post.

Greenberg noted that prior to the passage of the nation state law as a Basic Law with quasi-constitutional status there were laws to protect individual freedoms and to define the various branches of government, but despite the fact that the “open, free and democratic nature of Israel was enshrined in law” there was none “defining the identity and purpose of the state.”

The nation-state law does not “contradict or supersede the basic laws that protect and guarantee individual rights of all citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender,” she wrote.

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Greenberg addressed critics of the law who say that it infringes on religious freedom, saying that the law “relates only to the national rights of the Jewish people and does not address religious questions or prescribe an official religion.”

She said that while Hebrew has been defined by Basic Law as the official state language, the new law for the first time enshrines Arabic as a language with “special status,” and notes the law also states that “the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect will not be harmed.” This means that Arabic will continue to appear on Israel’s road signs and currency, and on other national documents.

On the concern about establishing Jewish-only communities, Greenberg said that until today Israel’s Supreme Court has only allowed the establishment of non-Jewish only communities and that a clause in the legislation had been meant to correct this disparity. The section ultimately was removed from the legislation.

Finally, on the issue of Diaspora Jewry, she notes that the law explicitly mentions that “the state will act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people” and says that the language chosen to refer to activities in the Diaspora alone was to “avoid an undemocratic situation in which a constitutional ‘right’ would effectively bind the Israeli Government to make decisions based on how they would be perceived abroad.”

Greenberg concluded that: “In a strong and vibrant democracy, with a free and open press, it is not surprising that there is lively debate about a new basic law.”

On Tuesday, Arab-Israeli leaders filed a petition with the country’s Supreme Court against the nation-state law. Among those signing the petition were the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the umbrella body of Arab Israeli organizations; lawmakers on the Arab Joint List in the Knesset; and the committee of Arab council heads and mayors, the Times of Israel reported.

The petition says that the law is “racist, massively harmful to fundamental human rights and contravenes international human rights norms, especially those forbidding laws that constitute a racist constitution.” It is at least the thirds challenge filed with the Supreme Court over the law.

In an interview on Monday with Army Radio, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned of an “earthquake” if the high court attempts to overturns the law, saying that the Supreme Court does not have the authority strike down a Basic Law on constitutional grounds.

“Such a move would cause an earthquake between different authorities,” Shaked said.