The Nationality Bill

This coming week the Israeli government is attempting to pass controversial legislation called the Nationality Bill. In its most simplistic form the bill attempts to enshrine into law the fact that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, not a particularly radical idea since Israel’s Declaration of Independence already states that. The idea behind the legislation is to codify it into a Basic Law, which is a type of constitutional law in Israel. But why it’s necessary is anybody’s guess, and it has stirred up tremendous opposition because of different provisions within the statute.

There are two competing legal and social philosophies that make up the character of the nation of Israel. One, it is considered the nation state of the Jewish people. Two, its government is based upon democratic principles. This tension is embodied in the text of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“We . . . hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. . . The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it 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.”

In recent years, this tension has surfaced continuously with the Israeli Supreme Court’s assertion of authority to strike down legislation it considers violative of democratic principles enshrined in some of Israel’s Basic Laws. Consequently, more right wing political parties have called for restraining the Court’s authority to review laws passed by the Knesset and actually requiring court rulings to also consider Rabbinic law as well as civil or common law in its rulings. This, in and of itself, is highly problematic and could cause a host of problems for, among others, Messianic Jews. The Court already refers to Rabbinic law in certain cases where Messianic Jews are barred from immigrating to Israel. Imagine what would happen if it applied the same reasoning to employment, housing or social benefits.

However, there is one section in the new proposal that has caused the biggest outcry, including from the President of the State, Reuven Rivlin. The section actually allows religious or national groups to establish communities that could deliberately exclude others from their communities. During committee proceedings, one of the Knesset members, an Ethiopian Jew, called the proposal, “pure racism, a disgrace.” The response by the sponsors was, “It’s not racism; it’s Zionism.” If such a proposal passes, one could expect increased housing discrimination, including against Messianic Jews. While social discrimination does exist in Israel, there is little to no actual legal discrimination, except for issues involving immigration to The Land.  This Nationality Bill could actually make discrimination legal.

A few months ago, Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party, of which I’m an activist, introduced his own nationality bill. Here’s what he had to say:

"Today, at the start of the summer session of the Knesset, we are submitting a very simple bill. The Nation-State Bill. Not formulated in the language of conflict and discrimination like the coalition wants but in the clear and unambiguous wording written originally by MK Benny Begin (from the Likud). The Bill we submit states simply: The State of Israel will be open to Jewish immigration, the ingathering of the exiles and will promote the development of the land for the benefit of all its inhabitants. It will be based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel. It will maintain complete social and political equality of rights for all its citizens, irrespective of religion, race or gender. It will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. It will preserve the holy places of all religions and be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Our Bill states that the nation-state of the Jewish people is the State of Israel, a democratic state, an egalitarian state for its minorities with the blue and white as its flag, the seven- branched menorah as its symbol and “Hatikvah” as its national anthem.”

Lapid’s proposal is quite a contrast to the bill being currently considered. Israel is called to be a light to the nations. Yeshua said, “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” In many ways, Israel is a light to the nations, but passing legislation that is deliberately discriminatory and divisive is not the way.  As I’ve said before numerous times, this particular coalition government is the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. It continues to harm relations with American Jewry. Its discrimination against Messianic Jewish immigration is almost unprecedented. It’s time for a change. Please pray for the defeat of this current legislation.