Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Fear Secondary Status as Israel Declares Itself the Official Nation-State of the Jewish People

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In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

What this means for its Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews is left unclear.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

Today the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem also denounced the law as “a cause of great concern” because Palestinians, who make up 1 in 5 Israeli citizens, are “flagrantly excluded.”

“The Christian citizens of Israel have the same concerns as any other non-Jewish communities with respect to this Law,” the Catholic leadership stated. “They call upon all citizens of the State of Israel who still believe in the basic concept of equality among citizens of the same nation, to voice their objection to this law and the dangers emanating thereof to the future of this Country.”

Israel lacks a constitution, so its Declaration of Independence has long served as a reference point for law. It promises “full and equal citizenship” to all inhabitants, with a special appeal made to Arabs.

Other basic laws outline the democratic nature of Israel and its institutions. Though the precedence of basic laws over other laws is not formally established, they have never been overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court.

But in recent years, Cowen explained, right-wing political parties grew frustrated with the Supreme Court, which struck down laws undermining the democratic nature of the state. By creating a new basic law, Jewish nationality is prioritized while no mention is made of equality.

“How this new law will affect the democratic character of the country remains to be seen,” he said.

“Very little of Israel’s new Nation-State Law is actually new,” wrote Robert Nicholson, executive director of The Philos Project, in a Providence journal article analyzing how the law and a similar 2003 Palestinian one only make sense within a two-state solution. “The mere statement that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people is hardly novel; it’s what Israelis have been saying since 1948. In fact, the best critique of the law may be that it doesn’t really do anything besides stir up unnecessary trouble.”

Arab lawmakers in the Knesset voiced their strong convictions. Many cried out “Apartheid!” following the 62-55 majority vote, and ripped up copies of the bill.

First proposed in 2011, the basic law draft was contested strongly by left-wing Jewish groups. But with its passage, sponsoring Knesset member Avi Dichter celebrated within his original vision.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jayson Casper