Critics of Israel's Nation-State Law Misunderstand the Country's Constitutional System

Critics of Israel's Nation-State Law Misunderstand the Country's Constitutional System

Israel's Arab leaders filed a petition to the high court Tuesday against a controversial new "nation-state" law, adding to a deluge of opposition to the bill that critics brand an undemocratic betrayal of minority communities.

The law includes legally preserving Israel's "democratic" character, its state symbols (national anthem, flag, icon), Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Hebrew as the official language and the right of return for Diaspora Jewry.

The "nation state law", which has near-constitutional power as part of the series of Basic Laws that inform and direct Israel's legislative and judicial branches, was passed by a 62-55 margin earlier this month, enshrining Israel as the historic homeland of the Jewish people and stating Jews have a "unique" right to self-determination within its borders. It also defines Arabic as a language bearing a "special" status, effectively downgrading it from its de facto status as Israel's second official language.

Arab citizens account for some 21 percent of Israel's more than 8.8 million population; they have equal voting rights, freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly, but many have long complained of discrimination.

Several Basic Laws, including those on the Knesset, the government, and the judiciary, detail the mechanisms of Israeli democracy and enshrine fundamental democratic principles like free elections and judicial independence.

"Any law that denies Palestinians their civil and national rights is racist, colonialist and illegitimate", it said.

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"The Nation-State Law prevents, for example, the exploitation of the family reunification clause under which very, very many Palestinians have been absorbed into the country", he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Tens of thousands demonstrated against the law in Tel Aviv on Saturday, calling for it to be amended to ensure equality for the country's minorities.

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.

The wave of criticism piles pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is already beset by corruption allegations.

Last week, the left-wing Meretz party petitioned the court against the law, claiming it violated a basic law passed in 1992 that guarantees "human dignity" for all citizens of Israel.

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