Defining Israel: A Forum on Recent Attempts to Determine Israel’s Character


A forum edited by Simon Rabinovitch

Part I: The Report

Constitutional Anchoring of Israel’s Vision: Recommendations Submitted to the Minister of Justice

By Ruth Gavison, with an introduction by Simon Rabinovitch

Professor Ruth Gavison speaks with Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.
Professor Ruth Gavison speaks with Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.

Part II: The Documents

Jewish and Democratic According to the Law

Israel’s proposed nation-state laws, with an introduction by Simon Rabinovitch

Knesset Cornerstone
Knesset Cornerstone

Part III: What It All Means

Gideon Sapir, Was it Right to Try to Pass a Nation-State Law?

Gideon Sapir-1…at least on the legal and factual level, the debate regarding the nation state has long since been decided. The right to self-determination in a nation state is recognized and anchored in international human rights documents. Most western states are nation states, and their number has only increased with the collapse of many multi-national states since the end of the Cold War.

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David Myers, The Triumph of the Majority, and the Decline of Democracy

Seder 3/25/2013“These bills read like a defensive response, as if Jews and their identity are beleaguered — in their own state. Efforts to protect their language, heritage, and education would make more sense if the Jews were a minority in a state controlled by a non-Jewish majority.”

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Alexander Yakobson, A Manual on How Not to Write a Constitution

_MG_1214 copy“…by far the worst problem is that [Netanyahu’s law] conspicuously avoids mentioning the most fundamental principle of democracy that appears prominently in every democratic constitution (and in undemocratic constitutions as well) — full equality of citizens regardless of, inter alia, religion and ethno-national origin.”


Israel Bartal, Who Needs the Nation-State Law? The State of the Jews, Fears, and Fear Mongering

Bartal“I never would have thought that one day someone would come and try to violate – using arguments of bolstering national resilience, no less — the brilliant balance between “nationalism” and “democracy” bequeathed to us for all generations, by the founding fathers of the State of Israel.”

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Nahum Karlinksky, Double Decolonization and the Loss of Hegemony

nahumKarlinsky-1 copy“For an outside observer, the debate over the bills and the general radicalization of Israeli politics and discourse, manifested so clearly during the 2014 Gaza war and its aftermath, may seem irrational, self-destructive, and a danger to Israel’s vital interests. However, this supposedly irrational conduct is completely rational if we shift our angle of vision: this mode of behavior is characteristic of states in the final stages of their colonial decline.”    Read More..

Nir Kedar, On the Dangers of Enshrining National Character in the Law

NirK copy“The phrase ‘Jewish and democratic state’ ignites societal tensions, rivalries, and schisms because it creates the mistaken impression that Jewish society in Israel is composed of two sectors: Jews versus democrats, religious versus secular, proponents of Jewish culture versus modern-day ‘Hellenists’ who prefer ‘universal’ (or ‘Western’) values such as citizenship and democracy over Judaism.”

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Yehudah Mirsky, What Is A Nation-State For?


“In one and the same breath, the warm, historical resonances of“people” are yoked to the hard edges of the modern “nation,” in which peoplehood is tied to the coercive power of the state. This illustrates, if nothing else, the uneasy and still unresolved relationship between the new Israeli nationalist dispensation and the very historical identity it is seeking to preserve and protect.”

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Part IV: Responses

Yoram Hazony, Considerations on the Current Crisis in Israel’s Constitution

Yoram Hazony orange crop copy“Israel’s standing as the nation state of the Jewish people rests on a broader body of political theory, which recognizes the principle of the self-determination of peoples as the most appropriate organizing principle for the international system.”

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Moshe Koppel, Too Jewish?

Copy of mk-pic2“If we wish to teach our children that Israel is a Jewish nation state, we need to define concretely what that entails. If we wish to demand from others that they live peacefully alongside us however we choose to define ourselves, we ought to flesh out that definition.”

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 Yousef T. JabareenEnshrining Exclusion: The Nation-State Law and the Arab-Palestinian Minority in Israel

Jabareen.2.000“The bill establishes Jewish national belonging as the basis for group-based privileges in the areas noted above without creating a provision for similar collective rights for the Arab-Palestinian national minority, and in doing so, this legislation contradicts relevant principles of international law. The final result would be a formalized legal bias in favor of the Jewish majority and to the detriment of the Arab minority.”

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Tzipi Livni and Simon Rabinovitch, A Conversation about the Meaning of a Jewish and Democratic State and Israel’s Prospects for Passing a Nation-State Law

Livni-300x200 2“We are giving part of the land of our forefathers, and our history, and we take some calculated security risks, and to do what? To create a state just for what? The whole idea is to end the conflict based on two states for two peoples; each state gives to the other national aspirations of different people.”

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Ze’ev B. Begin, On the Essence of the State of Israel

August 17 2015 079A“The essence of the State of Israel needs to be explicitly enshrined in law. Four hundred years ago, in France, Cardinal Richelieu, said: ‘if it is self-evident – write it down.’ To this I would add: and if it is not self-evident, all the more so – in particular it should be written into law.”

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Ruth Gavison, Reflections on the Nation-State Debate

10835222_716934398413385_3793041316740011635_oI want Israel to be a state with a vision. The vision is Jewish self-determination, democracy and human rights. All components are critical for the welfare and justice of the state and for its very survival.”

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