On 19 July, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Nation-State Bill into law with 62 votes in favour and 55 against. The law declares Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, with Jerusalem as its capital. Simply put, everything Christian Zionism stands for.
Despite the widespread criticism of the bill, the new law effectively cements reality, and more significantly reaffirms biblical truth that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
The law also declares the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and sovereignty and designates Hebrew as Israel’s official language.
Legislation comes amid a backdrop of attempts to reject or undermine the Jewish people’s connection with the Land of Israel and Israel’s existence as the nation state of the Jewish people. Israel has no written constitution, a situation it inherited from British law. Instead, Israel has passed a series of Basic Laws that together were intended as a blueprint for an eventual constitution. Basic Laws take precedence over other Israeli legislation, guide judicial interpretation and shape future legislation in the absence of a constitution. This new bill essentially enshrines Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence repeatedly notes the connections of the Jews to Israel and that Israel is being established as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Unlike the Basic Law, however, the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document. On the 70th anniversary year of Israel declared independence, one cannot ignore the significance that the passed bill represents.
Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the new law as “a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel… 122 years after Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence.”
Let’s look at the bill more closely:
The law has 11 stipulations, the first, declaring the State of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it actualizes its natural, religious, and historical right for self-determination. The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
This is a fundamental principle that is denied by those wanting to deny all Jewish connection to the land of Israel. As Christians, we understand that this connection is underpinned by promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as supported by 3,000 years of historical record and archaeological evidence.
Secondly the bill lists the national symbols of Israel – the flag with blue Star of David, the Menorah Menorah with seven branches, olive leaves on each side, and the word Israel at the bottom, and Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah.
Thirdly, the bill states a “unified and complete [city of] Jerusalem is the capital of Israel”. Indeed, Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Jerusalem and every Christian should defend the Jewish people’s connection to the holy city.
Fourth, the bill states that “Hebrew is the language of the state”. Again, a statement of reality and affirmation that Israel is a Jewish state. It adds “The Arabic language has a special status in the state; the regulation of the Arab language in state institutions or when facing them will be regulated by law.” This has caused the most controversy with some claiming that Arabic should be an official language alongside Hebrew. But the special status of Arabic reflects the fact that Arabic is very firmly established as a language used in Israel for both signage, government documents, etc, and there is no doubt that this isn’t going to change under the new law.
Fifth, it says “The state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the gathering of the exiled”. This is the reason the State of Israel was created. This new law includes this wording, again, because it is the reality – Israel was reestablished to enable the Jewish people to return to their historic homeland.
Sixth, the bill says that Israel will “labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people and its citizens who are in trouble and captivity due to their Jewishness or their citizenship.” and that it will “act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora.”
Seventh, Israel encourages Jews to settle in Israel saying the state “views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”
Eighth, “the Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the secular calendar will serve as an official calendar. The usage of the Hebrew calendar and of the secular calendar will be determined by law.”
Ninth states that “Independence Day is the official holiday of the state” and “The Memorial Day for those who fell in the wars of Israel and the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and heroism are official memorial days of the state.”
Tenth, it states that “Saturday and the Jewish Holidays are the official days of rest in the state”. It adds that “Those who are not Jewish have the right to honor their days of rest and their holidays. Details concerning these matters will be determined by law.”
The bill concluded with “This Basic Law may not be altered except by a Basic Law that gained the approval of the majority of the Knesset members”.
Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a televised statement in English following criticism from some Jewish communities abroad, based mainly on the view that the bill didn’t promote pluralism inside the Jewish state and that Arabic is not an official language. Netanyahu highlighted Israel as the only democratic state in the region stating “I am proud of the vibrant democracy we have built in our ancestral homeland. Israel grants equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion, race, nationality or gender. We are strong not in spite of our diversity; we are strong because of our diversity.”
He clarified that the “Nation-state law defines the rights of the Jewish people to self-determination in Israel. It also maintains the rights of all Israeli citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, to preserve their culture, their heritage, their language and their identity.” He then spoke of the new law in relation to the diaspora, Jewish communities outside of Israel, stating “The new law affirms Israel’s commitment to preserving the bond between Israel and Jews around the world. The unity of our people is a key source of our strength. Israel will continue to be a home for all Jews, no matter where you are from or how you pray.” He added “Israel’s democracy will always continue to flourish. For that, we can all be proud.”
Meanwhile, Turkey accused Israel of apartheid witha spokesman for Erdogan stating, “We reject the decision to proclaim Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as well as the decisions to create new settlements aimed at the systematic stripping of Palestinians from their land, and the Israeli government’s attempts to establish an apartheid state… This racist step, which represents an attempt to wipe the Palestinian people out of their motherland, not only materially but also legal, cannot be accepted in any way.”
The Arab League condemned the law, claiming Israel’s government is “trying to forcibly enforce are null and will not give any legitimacy to the Israeli occupation.” Jordan’s Foreign Minister took to Twitter, claiming that the nation-state law is “a violation of international law, human rights. It is an act that will further fuel tension. International community must stand against it as yet another measure that threatens security, stability.”
Head of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherin, expressed “We are concerned. We have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context. We’ve been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution. We believe it is the only way forward, and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided.”
The Basic Law, however, represents the truth and reflect reality. The Jewish people have every right to self-determination. Israel is the Jewish state, its capital is Jerusalem and as Christian Zionists it should be celebrated.