Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked threatened to “go to war” against the High Court if it tries to roll back legislation of the Nationality Law. In an interview on Army Radio, Shaked said that attempts by the Court to contravene a Basic Law – which the Nationality Law is among – would be “a major earthquake in the rule of law, and a dramatic event that would create great tension between the different authorities, specifically the lawmaker and the judge. To date, there has been only one intervention by the Court on a Basic Law, and that was strictly on a procedural issue, without seeking to strike it down,” she said.
Israel does not have a constitution – but it does have a collection of Basic Laws, which are used by the courts as guidelines for what legislation passed by the Knesset is “legal.” The Nationality Law is the latest of a number of such laws, the oldest of which date back to the 1950s.
The possibility of High Court intervention in the matter grew Monday, when two IDF soldiers, members of the Bedouin community, petitioned the High Court against the law. The petition demands that the law be canceled, on the grounds that it discriminates against minority groups, including Bedouin.
The law, claims the petition, violates several Basic Laws on individual rights, and also opposes the status quo on the standing of the Bedouin community that has been in force since Israel’s independence in 1948. It also demands that the law be suspended altogether until the petition is heard and adjudicated – and that the state prove why it should not adjust the law to provide equal rights to all Israelis.
Among the tenets of the law are that Israel is the “national home” of the Jewish people; that Israel is obligated to preserve Jewish culture and tradition; that the Jewish calendar be used whenever possible to conduct state business; that Jewish law be the “source of inspiration” for legislation by the Knesset and decisions by the courts; that Jews be given the opportunity to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship; that Hebrew be recognized as the primary official language of the country; and that the state encourage Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.
“The members of the Court are very serious and professional people,” said Shaked. “The Knesset is the body that makes the law. The Court’s job is to interpret, not strike down the Nationality Law. I do not believe that a majority of the High Court’s judges will decide to do that. I hope it does not, as the consequences may be difficult for both sides.”