‘Jewish State’ or ‘State of All Citizens?’ High Court Will Weigh In

A view of the High Court building in Yerushalayim.

The High Court is set to hear arguments on Monday by Arab party Balad, in its demand that the Knesset discuss a law proposed by MKs Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi and Jam’a Azbarga that seeks to end Israel’s designation as a Jewish state. Titled Basic Law: A State of All Citizens, the law would have wide-ranging implications, from requiring a change in the national anthem, which makes reference to the “Jewish soul,” to banning the Law of Return, which confers Israeli citizenship on any Jew who requests it.

The Arab MKs proposed the law in June, but the Knesset presidium, consisting of ten MKs, voted not to allow it to be discussed in the Knesset. The Knesset legal adviser said that the Knesset was within its rights to dismiss the discussion, as it would contradict the basic tenets of the existence of the state.

Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein said that the proposal was “a ridiculous one that must be stopped in its tracks. The Knesset cannot be forced to discuss a proposal that would essentially dismantle the principles on which the State of Israel was created and operates.”

Edelstein added that the Balad MKs had attempted to file the law in the past, and they had been stopped. “These three MKs try over and over to get more votes by creating provocations, we cannot give them that opportunity.”

In response, the Arab MKs decided to demand that the court allow discussion of the law. “Given our inability to act using parliamentary tools, we are seeking relief in court,” they wrote in their petition. “We hope that the court will restrain the Knesset from its insane actions.”

Zahalka added that instead of allowing discussion on its “purely democratic law, it encourages discussion of the fascist and racist Nation-State Law,” which would further cement Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state.

In the June vote against allowing the bill up for discussion, three MKs voted against – two of them Arab MKs, and one of them Jewish Home MK Beאzalel Smotrich. Asked why he voted as he did, Smotrich told Channel 20 that he agreed “with every word MK Edelstein said, I think that a decision not to allow the discussion of a law needs to be rooted in a Basic Law, not by decree of the Knesset.”