The ‘nation state’ bill pays lip service to minority protections. Palestinian citizens have every right to be angry
Last week Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial bill declaring that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country. Pushed by the most rightwing government in Israeli history, the bill is unashamedly majoritarian and illiberal. In promoting the law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reveals that he pays lip service to minority protections. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up around a fifth of the population, have every right to be angry. The law implicitly subordinates the country’s democratic nature to its Jewish nature rather than balancing the two. The “nation state” basic law will promote communities with a clearly Jewish character and reduce the status of Arabic. Israeli Arabs say this will make them officially second-class citizens. It’s hard to disagree.
It is significant that the bill has been condemned from outside the country and underlined the rift between the Israeli government and a liberal Jewish diaspora. Yet Mr Netanyahu and his Likud party have persisted with hardline, rightwing policies in coalition with some of Israel’s most hawkish factions. This combination has seen him win four elections. Mr Netanyahu has also engaged in very low politics: his 2015 victory was credited to what his opponent described as “lies, incitement and racism”. The new law highlights the rise of Israel’s ultranationalists, which Mr Netanyahu sees as part of a global revival of populism. The “nation state” basic law was passed just before Mr Netanyahu welcomed to Israel Hungary’s far-right leader, Viktor Orbán, who has praised Nazi-era antisemitic collaborators. If the claim is Mr Netanyahu is soft on antisemitism when it suits him, then honouring Mr Orbán is good evidence.