A week before Israel’s Knesset approved the Nationality Law, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his speech at the State Memorial Ceremony for Ze’ev Jabotinsky on July 12 to argue in favor of the controversial legislation. Jabotinsky was the founder of Revisionist Zionism and is often regarded as the ideological forefather of today's ruling Likud Party. The law was needed, the prime minister argued, to "ensure the Jewish character of our state for generations." Netanyahu did not elaborate. But against the backdrop of the recent pro-annexation surge in the prime minister’s Likud Party, it is conceivable that the new legislation is laying the constitutional groundwork for continued Jewish hegemony if and when Israel moves to formally annex the West Bank to its territory — and millions of Palestinians to its census.
Netanyahu did not specify in his remarks what was endangering Israel’s Jewish character or how the statute would ward off that danger. But the first sentence of the Nationality Law offers a clue. The text states, "The Land of Israel, in which the State of Israel arose, is the historic homeland of the Jewish people.’’ With the Knesset establishing this as the statute’s initial Basic Principle, the law implies a latent Jewish territorial claim that goes beyond Israel’s internationally recognized boundaries, to the Biblical "Land of Israel." This term, increasingly used by the Israeli right, encompasses the geographical area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, hence includes the occupied West Bank. An annexation of those occupied territories and their residents would indeed pose a challenge to Israel’s dominant Jewish identity.