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Does Israel really need the Nationality Law?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advances the discriminating Nationality Law in order to garner wide political support.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Oded Balilty/Pool - RTS15HQX
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For six years, as far back as when he was a member of Knesset for the Kadima Party, Avi Dichter tried unsuccessfully to advance his Nationality Law, a Basic Law that could be revoked only by special majority that would define Israel as the state of the Jewish people, with all that this implies legally and legislatively. On May 7, Dichter, who is now the Likud chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, registered a personal achievement when the Ministerial Committee on Legislation agreed to approve the law and pass it through the Knesset's legislative process as a government proposal.

The Nationality Law is controversial in Israel because it disrupts the delicate balance between the two main features of the country as both Jewish and democratic. The law provides legal sanction to efforts to bolster Israel's Jewish identity at the expense of other values, such as the equal and respectful treatment of minorities. One example of this is the law's designation of Hebrew as the country's sole official language (contrary to Hebrew and Arabic currently), a fact that ignores the 1.8 million Arabs who make up almost one-quarter of the population. Moreover, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the founding document establishing Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel, already validates Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

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