September 24, 2018


Israel chooses identity over democracy (Shlomo Ben-Ami, 9/24/18, The Strategist)

[T]he nation-state law is not just another means of accumulating political capital among an increasing identity-focused electorate. There is another motivation at play--one that poses an even more serious threat to Israeli democracy.

Israel is a prosperous, advanced economy, but it is built on a labor market that is too small. Arab Israelis, however, represent a considerable labour pool (as does the Orthodox Jewish community, among whom the labour-force participation rate is much lower than among secular Jews). To advance its interest in Arab Israelis' economic and social integration, in December 2015 the Israeli government approved a truly historic five-year plan.

Nearly three years later, the integration of Arab Israelis is progressing apace. According to the 2017 Israel Democracy Institute Index of Arab-Israeli relations, 70% of Israel's Arabs speak fluent Hebrew, and 77% are not interested in separation. Moreover, Tel Aviv University's Amal Jamal has highlighted the consistent increase in the number of Arab academics in Israel and the emergence of an Arab middle class in the country. This goes, he found, with a rise in national sentiments.

This is where the nation-state law comes in. The increasing integration and prosperity of Arab Israelis is empowering them to push back against discriminatory policies. With the nation-state law in place, however, their legal recourse will be severely constrained.

But this may not only be a matter of silencing an increasingly empowered minority; Israel's government could be laying the groundwork to suppress the Arab majority that would emerge if (or when) it annexes the occupied Palestinian territories. In this sense, the nation-state law is a kind of hedge against the government's own expansionist policies--and a potentially devastating blow to Israeli democracy.

Posted by at September 24, 2018 6:17 PM