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Shaked warns of ‘earthquake’ if Israel’s top court quashes nation-state law

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked wants to give the Israeli parliament the right to effectively overrule in cases where the Supreme Court declares a bill unconstitutional
GALI TIBBON (AFP/File)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Sunday warned of an “earthquake” if Israel’s High Court of Justice struck down the widely-contested Jewish nation-state law.

In an interview with Army Radio Shaked explained that she did not believe the court had the authority to constitutionally quash the legislation given it was passed as a Basic Law.

“High Court justices are very serious and professional people,” she said. “The Knesset is the constituent assembly, which defines and determines the basic laws. [The justices] have to interpret the laws in accordance with the basic laws, and I don’t believe a majority on the Supreme Court would take such a step.”

The highly-controversial nation-state Basic Law passed on July 19 by a 62-55 margin in parliament last week, speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a "unique" right to self-determination within its borders.

Israel, which lacks a traditional constitution, holds its basic laws as preeminent, as they are meant to guide the judiciary and require a supra-majority in parliament in order to be overturned.

“I very much hope this doesn’t happen, and I don’t believe it will,” Shaked added about the possibility of an court intervention. “Such a move would cause an earthquake between different authorities.”

JACK GUEZ (AFP)

Shaked continued to defend the law which has received a barrage a criticism from non-Jewish minorities within Israel, Arab leaders and other international figures.

“There is nothing revolutionary in this specific law. It contains values that the state was founded on, values of settlement, immigration and national identity. There is a consensus about these values,” she told Army Radio.

The law's backers say it strengthens the state's status as a homeland for the Jewish people and note it was backed by a slim majority of the country's lawmakers. Polls published earlier this week found that just over half of voters support the legislation.

Arab citizens, who make up some 17.5 percent of Israel's more than eight million population, have strongly criticized the law, particularly those from Israel's 150,000-strong Druze community, who, unlike other Arabs who may volunteer, are subject to compulsory service in the military or police alongside Jewish Israelis. Israel’s Druze, however, feel the law has legally marginalized their civic identity.

Two clauses of the law have drawn particular concern: one which demotes Arabic from an official language of the state to one with "special status"; and another which encourages the promotion of “Jewish settlements”.

GPO

In order to quell backlash against the law, Netanyahu's office has proposed three additional laws that would establish the special status of the Arab minority communities in Israel, in particular the Druze and Circassian populations.

Amid the criticism, Shaked said that the law does not harm minorities but added that measures should be taken to “deal with the pain of the Druze community.” She added that there was no need “to categorize them as leftists or as those who want to undermine the government.”

Her comments followed on from a proposal announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would form a special ministerial committee to “honour that bond” with the Druze community.

“No one has harmed them [the Druze] and no one intends to harm, but without a nation-state law it is impossible to fortify Israel’s status as a Jewish state,” he said whilst addressing his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Since the laws’ passage, the High Court of Justice has received three petitions urging the body to quash the law given its discrimination.

On Saturday 50,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square to express their opposition to the law. Protesters united under the banner of preserving the importance of the democratic character of Israel, which has come under question for many since the laws passage.

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