Written in August 2018
On July 19, 2018, Israel’s government signed a new Basic Law called “The Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Its purpose was to define in law the nature of the State of Israel. It stated that Israel is ‘the historic homeland of the Jewish people’ who have the ‘unique right to self-determination in the State of Israel.’
It goes on to determine a number of existing facts concerning Israel:
- its name, flag and symbol, and the use of the biblical Hebrew calendar alongside the secular one,
- Hebrew as the language of the state,
- Saturday (Shabbat) and Jewish holidays are official days of rest, while Independence Day and Holocaust Memorial Day are official memorial days of the State.
- The ‘unified and complete city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel’
- ‘The state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the gathering of the exiled.’ It also commits to encouraging the promotion and development of Jewish settlement in the land.
This means that it puts into law the resolutions of the League of Nations made at the San Remo Conference of 1920 and the 1922 Mandate of Palestine (based on the Balfour Declaration) concerning the Jewish right to self-determination in the land. It is stating in law that the Jewish people have the unique right to determine the character of the land of Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people, open to Jewish immigration, with Jerusalem as its capital.
The law was attacked both within Israel and around the world as racist and anti-Arab. It drew condemnation from the media and politicians, particularly from the EU and UN, who said it is discriminatory against Arabs. The Israeli left and Arab population also protested against it, holding a demonstration in Tel Aviv.
Defenders of the law said it did not change anything in relation to the civil and human rights the Arabs of Israel have. However, it does deny them the right to change the character of Israel (e.g. change its name to Palestine, establish Islam as its main religion, have Jerusalem as its capital). It also refutes the claim made against Israel by the PLO that the Jews are not native to Israel and are followers of a religion, Judaism, and therefore not a people with a right to claim national self-determination. Therefore, Israeli Jews are simply foreign interlopers, who are negating the Palestinian Arab right of self-determination. Since this claim is made by anti-Zionists in the UN and the EU, Israel felt compelled to declare that the land of Israel has always been the homeland of the Jewish people and that the country of Israel is uniquely the nation-state of the Jewish people.
In doing this we see Israel making a statement that affirms a number of biblical principles that God has kept Israel as a people with a right to the land of Israel:
‘Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): ‘If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Jeremiah 31.35-36.
This means that God sees Israel as a people as long as the earth endures.
‘Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather Him and keep Him as a shepherd does His flock.’ Jeremiah 31.10.
‘For I (the Lord) will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land (Israel).’ Ezekiel 36.24.
This means that God has preserved the Jewish people during their exile from the land and is responsible for the restoration of Israel to the Jewish people, therefore they have the right to determine the character of the land.
The statement that the ‘unified and complete city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel’ is very significant. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal undivided capital. Against this Palestinian negotiator and PLO Executive secretary general Saeb Erekat has said that there will be no peace without a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem based on 1967 borders: “There is no point in having a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem with the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Old City and the walls as part of the Palestinian capital.”
Jerusalem remains at the heart of the conflict as prophesied by Zechariah:
‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.’ Zechariah 12.10.