Israel as a ‘Jewish nation state’ and democratic citizenship


Sir, – Israel’s new basic state law has come under considerable condemnation over the past week, but unjustifiably so. The legislation is made up of mostly symbolic declarations that reaffirm the symbolism and meaning of the Jewish state, as it has been recognised, known and understood since its foundation 70 years ago.

Israel as a “Jewish nation state” is therefore not a new concept. However, as the State of Israel has no written constitution, it has enacted a series of basic laws which will presumably form the basis of a future constitution.

There is no reason whatsoever to assume the balance between nationality and democratic citizenship will be substantially altered for the worse for Israel’s 20 per cent Arab population. Israel’s Arabs, as well as its minority Druze population, already enjoy full democratic rights within the State of Israel. Nothing in this law takes away any individual rights of any Israeli citizen, nor does it create individual privileges.

If anything, the nation state law is simply reaffirming key concepts and bringing about the correct balance of “Jewish” and “democratic”; concepts which have made the State of Israel work very successfully for all its citizens – Jews, Arabs, Druze and other minorities since its foundation.

The basic law officially establishes Hebrew as the official language, just as other nations have established an official language, including Ireland, where Irish is the first official language. Arabic has never been the official language of Israel and it has never legislated in Arabic; Arab members of the Knesset deliver their speeches in Hebrew. Hebrew is the primary language of 80 per cent of Israel’s population and the language of public discourse. The Jewish state does not, and never has precluded non-Jewish participation in any of its bodies. The nation state law will not alter that.

In terms of national self-determination, every country that has self-determination provisions, have them for the majority of its people. The new law means that Israel is the self-determination home for the Jewish people. Name one country on earth that offers national self-determination to 20 per cent of its population. Furthermore, a future Palestinian state would likewise be the self-determination home for the Palestinian people.

There is similarly nothing new in the law’s determination that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel”. Crucially, the law does not define Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, leaving open the possibility that a future Palestinian state would encompass major Arab neighbourhoods such as Jabel Mukkaber, Isawiyyeh and Silwan.

There is much fear-mongering around the issue of Israel viewing “the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”. The term “settlement” in today’s climate is loaded with negative connotations, but to the Israeli ear, Jewish settlement has more to do with populating the Negev Desert in Israel’s south and the Upper Galilee in Israel’s north, than to visions of building Jewish villages in the West Bank; there is nothing within the basic law that even hints at the West Bank.

That Israel’s nation state law was passed by a right-wing government is a fact, but it must be remembered that this law has been in the offing for about 15 years, at a time when two other basic laws were passed: human dignity and liberty, and freedom of employment. These two laws established core rights of Israeli citizens, Jewish or otherwise.

Israel, as both a Jewish state and a liberal democracy, believes basic freedoms must be protected for all.

Rather than an arrogant gesture, the nation state law is a necessary measure in anticipation of a two-state solution. – Yours, etc,



Ireland Israel Alliance,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Contrary to the views quoted in “Israelis react to Seanad vote: ‘We can manage happily without Ireland’” (News, July 14th), Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation, stresses that banning trade with illegal Israeli settlements serves to enhance the economic well-being of Palestinians.

In 2013 the World Bank found that the restrictions on Palestinian access to “Area C” of the West Bank – where the vast majority of settlements are located – cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion in the year 2011 alone. Those Palestinians who work in settlements do so because the damage which these settlements inflict on the Palestinian economy means they cannot find jobs elsewhere.

While many UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions have condemned Israel’s violations of international law, including the continued maintenance and expansion of Israel’s settlement enterprise, the occupation has become further entrenched by the assistance of Israeli and international businesses. In particular, in 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 called upon all states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967” in light of the flagrant violation of international law constituted by Israel’s settlements. As such, the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 complies with Ireland’s international law obligations to differentiate between unlawful settlement enterprise in the West Bank and goods originating from Israel and is an important enforcement mechanism. Furthermore, the Bill reflects the will of the Palestinian people for Ireland and other EU countries to stop trading in unlawful settlement goods.

It is worth recalling that supporters of South African apartheid also opposed the adoption of economic measures designed to bring about its end in part out of “concern” that they would negatively impact the non-white South African population. – Yours, etc,


General Director,




Sir, – Oliver Sears writes (July 26th) that he will support my call for an arms embargo on Israel “on the one condition” that I simultaneously call for an embargo on a host of other regimes: “That should deal with the supply chain.”

As a former steering committee member of the Irish Anti-War Movement, I have indeed, on many occasions, called for arms embargoes against all kinds of regimes and continue to support “dealing with the supply chain” – eg by denying use of Shannon Airport to the US military.

As for cultural boycott, as well as being a necessary constituent of the comprehensive boycott of the Israeli state called for by Palestinian civil society it is a logical response to the Israeli foreign ministry’s 2005 admission that it sees culture “as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank” and does not “differentiate between hasbara and culture”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 1.