Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association strongly oppose the Nation State Law that the Knesset has now established as one of Israel’s Basic Laws, which carry constitutional weight.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence states:
The State of Israel … will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations… .
We appeal … to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
The Nation State law undermines the democratic commitments of the Declaration of Independence by 1) terminating the status of Arabic as one of Israel’s two official languages; 2) strengthening the Orthodox monopoly on Jewish religious life; 3) impeding the ability of Israeli elected officials to negotiate a peace agreement that includes any form of compromise on Jerusalem; and 4) creating a legal basis for potential discrimination favoring Jewish over non-Jewish citizens of the state in matters of housing and community development.
Defenders of the law argue that it simply asserts the Jewish right to self-determination in Israel. However, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, its Law of Return granting Jews everywhere the right to emigrate to Israel, and the 1947 United Nations resolution establishing the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state all make it abundantly clear that Israel is the sovereign homeland of the Jewish people. Furthermore, Israel already devotes tremendous resources to supporting, serving, and settling its Jewish citizens, including new Jewish immigrants, and it does so both within Israel-proper and in West Bank settlements.
This law isn’t a benign restatement of long-established Jewish identity markers in the State of Israel, nor is it a course correction designed to protect Jewish Israelis from non-Jewish hegemony. Rather, it is the legislative product of groups that seek a more theocratic and nationalistic Israel, and the weakening of Israel’s democratic character. That vision of Israel stands in stark contrast with the vision of the signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, who struggled to establish a state that would always carefully balance its Jewish national character with a vigorous commitment to democracy.
We hold out hope that this law, which was passed with 62 votes out of 120 in the middle of the night, will be reconsidered. Meanwhile, we will continue to stand for the ideals of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, lending support to the many Israeli organizations and individuals who share this vision and advocate for it in Israeli society every day.
Correction: An earlier version of this statement incorrectly stated that Israel had three official languages, which in fact it only had two. English, while widely used in Israel, has never been an official language of the State.