JERUSALEM (JTA) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adviser for world communities said in an op-ed that critics of the nation-state law that passed last month in the Knesset often are “mistaken and misinformed.”
“The accusations about the new law’s effects on Israeli democracy have no connection to the actual content or context of the law,” Sara Greenberg wrote in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post.
Greenberg wrote that Israel already had laws to protect individual freedoms and define the branches of government, and the “open, free and democratic nature of Israel was enshrined in law,” but there were none “defining the identity and purpose of the state” prior to the passage of the nation-state law.
The new Basic Law, which has quasi-constitutional status, does not “contradict or supersede the basic laws that protect and guarantee individual rights of all citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender,” she wrote.
Addressing those who say the law infringes on religious freedom, Greenberg said it “relates only to the national rights of the Jewish people and does not address religious questions or prescribe an official religion.”
She said that while Hebrew has been defined by Basic Law as the official state language, the new law for the first time enshrines Arabic as a language with “special status,” and also states that “the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect will not be harmed.” This means that Arabic will continue to appear on Israel’s road signs and currency, and on other national documents.
On the concern about establishing Jewish-only communities, Greenberg said that Israel’s Supreme Court until now has only allowed the establishment of non-Jewish only communities and that a clause in the legislation had been meant to correct the disparity. The section ultimately was removed from the legislation.
Finally, on the issue of Diaspora Jewry, she said the law explicitly mentions that “the state will act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people” and that the language chosen to refer to activities in the Diaspora alone was to “avoid an undemocratic situation in which a constitutional ‘right’ would effectively bind the Israeli Government to make decisions based on how they would be perceived abroad.”
Greenberg concluded: “In a strong and vibrant democracy, with a free and open press, it is not surprising that there is lively debate about a new basic law.”
On Tuesday, Arab-Israeli leaders filed a petition with the Supreme Court against the nation-state law. Among the signers were the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the umbrella body of Arab-Israeli organizations; lawmakers on the Arab Joint List in the Knesset; and the committee of Arab council heads and mayors, The Times of Israel reported.
The petition says the law is “racist, massively harmful to fundamental human rights and contravenes international human rights norms, especially those forbidding laws that constitute a racist constitution.” It is at least the third challenge filed with the Supreme Court over the law.
In an interview Monday with Army Radio, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned about the high court attempting to overturn the law, saying it does not have the authority to strike down a Basic Law on constitutional grounds.
“Such a move would cause an earthquake between different authorities,” Shaked said.