After Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law earlier this month that grants Jews an exclusive right of self-determination in the country – effectively setting in stone Israel’s Jewish character; the law garnered harsh criticism from the country’s opposition and minorities, whom label the legislative move ‘racist’ and ‘verging on apartheid’. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected critics of the law, asserting that while the law enforces the Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, the state remains committed to fulfill all of its basic laws that provide full equal rights for all of its citizens. “The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, with full equal rights for all of its citizens. This is the meaning of the words ‘a Jewish and democratic state’. We have determined the personal equal rights of Israeli citizens in a series of laws including Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, laws that ensure full equality before the law, beginning with the right to vote and be elected to the Knesset and ending with all other personal rights in the State of Israel. However, we have never determined the national rights of the Jewish People in its land in a basic law – until now, when we passed the Nation-State Law. What is the meaning of national rights? They define the flag, the national anthem, the language and, of course, the fact that one of the basic goals of the state is the ingathering of exiles of our people and their absorption here in the land of Israel. This is the meaning of the Zionist vision.” / “We are not ashamed of Zionism. We are proud of our state, that it is a national home for the Jewish people, which strictly upholds – in a manner that is without peer – the individual rights of all its citizens,” Netanyahu said.
The “nation state” law, which passed by a small majority of 62 in favor versus 55 against in the 120-member Knesset is largely symbolic. It stipulates that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people whom have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.” Furthermore, the bill striped Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a “special status,” which enables its continued use within Israeli institutions. It is important to note that the ‘nation-state’ law was significantly watered down from its initial wording, with several clauses dropped in the last minutes before the vote – that after objections by Israel’s president and attorney-general, including an attempt to enshrine in law the establishment of Jewish-only communities.
While domestic criticism warned of the law’s implications – providing Israel’s Jewish character precedence over its Democratic nature, the most severe criticism came from abroad. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his AK party, that the new Israeli law proves Israel’s fascist nature; while making a parallel between Hitler’s Aryan race obsession to Israel’s mentality that regards Jews as the sole owners of the land of Israel. “This law legitimizes all unlawful actions and oppression on Palestinians, as well as Muslims and Christians who visit Jerusalem.” / “This law proves that, without doubt Israel is the most Zionist, most fascist and most racist country in the world.” / “There is no difference between Hitler’s Aryan race obsession and Israel’s mentality that regard Jews as the sole owners of these holy lands. The spirit of Hitler who dragged the world to a great disaster has re-emerged among some administrators in Israel,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
In response to Erdogan’s remarks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in which he stressed that “Turkey, under Erdogan’s rule, is becoming a dark dictatorship whereas Israel scrupulously maintains equal rights for all its citizens, both before and after the law.” The Israeli leader further noted that “The fact that Erdogan is attacking the Nation-State Law is the greatest compliment for this law.”