naftali bennett benjamin netanyahu Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images

Israel Chooses Identity Over Democracy

Israel's new law stating that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in the country is “unique to the Jewish people" has been denounced for infringing on the rights of Arab Israelis. But the law's real purpose may be more insidious: to ensure that Jewish Israelis remain in control, even if they become the minority.

TEL AVIV – Israel’s new “nation-state law” asserts that “the right [to exercise] national self-determination” in the country is “unique to the Jewish people,” sets Hebrew as the country’s official language, and establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” that the state will work to advance. Liberals denounce the law for infringing on the Arab minority’s civil rights. But it may weaken Israeli democracy in an even more insidious way.

The new law – the latest move in the reckless drive by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition to turn Israel into an illiberal democracy – contradicts the 1948 Declaration of Independence and the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Both guarantee the individual rights of all, Jews and Arabs.

Yet, in practice, the Israeli government has been defying those legal norms for a long time. While Arab Israelis may technically be constitutionally equal to Jewish Israelis , that has not stopped the government from discriminating against them. Most state land, for example, is held in trust for the Jewish people.

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