The Nation-State Law and Its Implications

On October 2, 2018, the Arab American Institute partnered with the Mossawa Center and the Al-Tulafa Center to host a panel discussion on Capitol Hill about Israel’s recent Nation-State law and its implications for democracy, equality, and peace in Israel and Palestine. AAI joined long-time activist Jafar Farah, who is the director and founder of Mossawa, and Nabila Espanioly, founder of the Pedagogical Center and Multipurpose Women’s Center in Nazareth (Al-Tulafa). 

Passed in July 2018 by the Israeli Knesset, the Nation-State law has alienated Palestinians through “codified linguistic and cultural discrimination.” In recent years, especially since Donald Trump expressed his ambivalence regarding the Middle East peace process, the notion of a one-state solution has become increasingly prevalent in the conversation of Israeli officials and politicians. Despite multiple revisions, the law still undermines democracy and threatens human and civil rights. It also decreases the prospects for a viable two-state solution between Palestine and Israel based on pre-1967 borders.

The discussion began with Farah addressing the Nation-State law directly by saying that “the law will prevent any possibility of a two-state solution and relegates Arabs in Israel as second-class citizens." With this provision, Israel attempts to justify its treatment of minorities while privileging non-citizen Jews over non-Jewish citizens of the state. In Israel, equality for all was never a part of the constitution, and as Farah pointed out, “around the world, real equality is a dream. This law kills that dream for Arab citizens of Israel.” At this point, Arab Israelis are just fighting for their basic human rights. 

Even though close to twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian, there is a movement in Israel downplaying or simply disregarding the Arabic language in the state of Israel. The law does not address the status of Arabs as citizens or even as a minority. The law privileges Hebrew as the “language of the State” and relegates Arabic to a language with only a “special status in the state,” moderating the fact that Arabic has held official status since 1948. This law precludes Palestinians from pursuing legal actions in defense of their language. Nabila highlighted this fact by stating “there is a gradually shrinking space in Israel for human rights and human rights activists. The Nation-State law was passed in this context.”

The feminist movement is another relevant development taking place in Israel. Espanioly said there are three circles of struggle for Palestinian women: “being a minority population in Israel, being a woman inside Israel and against internal conservatism within their own community.” Espanioly wants action, but not how many would assume: “In the upcoming Israeli elections, many Arabs feel they have to disengage from the political field because the Nation-State law has extinguished democracy; participation would be viewed as legitimizing the elections as democratic.” She believes that this stance will highlight the importance of their movement as a whole and send a message that they are serious about their demands for change. 

The clear message of the panel was to ask for international support and get the word out about the injustices occurring in Israel. In the Palestinian struggle for equality, no contribution is small, and it is important that the international community recognizes this crisis and responds accordingly. Farah concluded by proposing and encouraging the international community to “consider Palestinian citizens of Israel as core partners in peace-building initiates, and to invite Palestinian civil society organizations to the table when such issues are being deliberated upon.”

Ibrahim Diallo is a Fall 2018 Intern at the Arab American Institute.

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