Israel's Nation-State Law Is Not Just Bark: Its bite affects Arabs, Druze and the foundation of democracy.

Author:Breger, Marshall

After the passage of Israel's nation-state law, which anchors the Jewishness of the state in Israel's "basic law" or constitution, the Israeli right and its American fellow travelers were quick to tell us that the law was no big deal--that it merely codified what was already social reality in the State of Israel. (Of course, beforehand they had trumpeted its passage as of existential importance to prevent the demise of the Zionist dream.)

This notion that the law is of little significance is belied by the reaction to it, and not just on the left (which dreams of Israel as a "state of all its citizens"). Druze officers resigned from the Israel Defense Forces. An Arab MK resigned from the Knesset, and the only permanent former Arab Supreme Court justice, who had just retired, begged his former colleagues to overturn the law. Perhaps more importantly, the law has already served as a dog whistle to Jewish exclusivism, encouraging manifestations such as border interrogations of American liberal Jews, settlement expansion and denigration of Arab citizens.

Responding to Druze complaints that the law denied their validity as a community, Likud officials suggested they would seek amendments to accommodate the Druze, perhaps in separate legislation. They could not, of course, privilege the Druze by name, so a legal workaround may be proposed, stipulating that those who served in the armed forces--as the Druze do--get the benefit of the legislation. The very suggestion underscores the bad faith involved, since it makes it clear that the legislation is actually directed against the 18 to 20 percent of the population who are Arab and excused from conscription.

To exempt the Druze makes them in a sense "honorary Jews," rather as Hitler made his Japanese allies honorary Aryans. Similarly, Virginia's old Racial Integrity Act of 1924--found unconstitutional in the iconic 1967 case Loving v. Virginia--made marriage between the races illegal except for descendants of Pocahontas and other American Indians. Why? Because so many of the first families of Virginia (FFV, as they used to be called) had married Native Americans on arrival. The Virginia law in effect made those mixed-race progeny honorary whites.

What does the nation-state law actually do? It states that the right of self-determination in Israel "is unique to the Jewish people"; it enshrines Hebrew as Israel's "official language," consigning Arabic to "special status," whatever that means; it declares...

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