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Attorney General says Israel's nation state law does not harm equality for minorities

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who is currently investigating a Netanyahu confidant, at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 8, 2015
Abir Sultan (Pool/AFP/File)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said on Monday that the Jewish nation-state law recently passed by the Knesset does not violate the rights of Israel’s minority groups.

At a conference in Jerusalem, Mandelblit said that the law “does not harm their rights, because it is on an equal (legal) footing to their basic constitutional rights.”

The highly-contested nation-state was passed earlier this month with a 62-55 margin. It speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and declares the Jewish people’s "unique" right to self-determination within its borders.

Concern has been amplified by the fact that the law was passed as one of Israel's so-called basic laws -- which in lieu of a constitution are held preeminent, as they are meant to guide the judiciary and require a supra-majority in parliament in order to be overturned.

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.

Druze, Arab and Bedouin leaders as well as rights groups, academics and left-leaning lawmakers have sent multiple petitions to the High Court of Justice, with several more said to be in the pipeline.

JACK GUEZ (AFP/File)

The petitions claim the bill violates international law and disregards the collective rights of Israel’s sizable non-Jewish population and works to enshrine inequality.

Alongside this, at least five court challenges have been filed against the nation-state law, which is now up to the judges to decide whether to limit its interpretation.

However, Mandelblit argues that the national-state law does not override Israel’s previous semi-constitutional Basic Laws that guarantee equality for minority groups. “The new Basic Law is on the same normative level as previous Basic Laws,” he said, referring to the quasi-constitutional legislation.

Mandelblit has also previously defended the law against criticism by arguing that it has "no practical significance" and its vague wording means it as little to no effect.

Last month, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the same sentiment and reiterated that, “the individual rights of its citizens are anchored very well in the basic laws and other laws.” He also said that it is “necessary in order to ensure the future of the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people.”

GPO

Netanyahu has remained defiant in the face of an outpouring of criticism against the law, which declares Israel the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a "unique" right to self-determination within its borders.

The law makes no mention of equality or democracy, implying that Israel's Jewish nature takes precedence -- something for which Israel's far-right religious nationalist politicians have long advocated.

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”.

Earlier this month around 50,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest against the controversial passage of the bill rallying in aid of “preserving the democratic character of the state of Israel” for all of its citizens. A second rally attracted 30,000 people.

Netanyahu has said the government intends to review ways to strengthen the state’s relations with minorities but has reaffirmed his commitment to the bill and his avergence to modifying it.

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