A recently-adopted Israeli law that strongly affirmed the country’s link with the Jewish people and avoided mention of non-Jews wrongly excluded the non-Jewish population, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has said.
“It is beyond conception that a law with constitutional effect ignores an entire segment of the population, as if its members never existed,” the Latin patriarchate said July 30. “The law might not have practical effects, yet it sends an unequivocal signal to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, to the effect that in this country they are not at home.”
“The Christian citizens of Israel have the same concerns as any other non-Jewish communities with respect to this law,” the patriarchate continued. “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.”
The Nation State Law’s provisions, which have the weight of a constitutional amendment, define Israel as the “historic homeland of the Jewish people” who have “a singular right to national self-determination within it.”
The passage of the law by a 62-55 vote July 19 with the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition drew widespread international criticism, including from influential groups like the American Jewish Committee.
Among the concerns of the Latin patriarchate were the law’s downgrading of Arabic as an official language to a language with a “special status.” It also objected to the law’s “commitment to work on the development of Jewish settlement in the land, with no mention of the development of the country for the rest of its inhabitants.”
“Palestinian citizens of Israel, constituting 20 percent, are flagrantly excluded from the law,” the patriarchate objected, charging that the law “says that there are not equal rights between Jews and Arabs and refuses to acknowledge their existence.”
The Latin Patriarchate serves all 150,000 Roman Catholics across Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus. While Israel’s population is predominantly Jewish, about 20 percent of the country’s 8.5 million people are Arab. About two percent are Christian.
The Palestinian population is largely split geographically and politically between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. More moderate Palestinian groups have hoped to secure East Jerusalem as the recognized capital of a Palestinian state under a negotiated two-state solution.
Explaining its criticisms, the Latin Patriarchate said Israel’s Nation State Law seems to have been enacted for “internal political reasons.” Though the law defines Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people,” it fails to provide “any constitutional guarantees for the rights of the indigenous and other minorities living in the country.”
“It not enough to have and guarantee individual rights,” the patriarchate said. “Any state with large minorities ought to recognize the collective rights of these minorities, and guarantee the preservation of their collective identity, including their religious, ethnic and social traditions.”
The law is “politicized” and not rooted in “the basic norms that are common and acceptable to all fractions of the population,” the Catholic patriarchate said. It “directly contradicts” the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 and the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
Resolution 181, according to the patriarchate, guaranteed the establishment of a Jewish state “while ensuring full civil rights to the Arabs living therein.” In the Declaration of Independence, the founders of Israel “clearly and unequivocally committed to foster its development for the benefit of all its inhabitants and to ensure ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all, irrespective of religion, race or sex’,” the patriarchate said, quoting the 1948 declaration.
“Where there is discrimination, there is no dignity,” the patriarchate said.
Upon the passage of the law, Netanyahu said it determines in law “the founding principle of our existence.”
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens,” he said. “This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel.”
The law also declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, set the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognized Independence Day, days of remembrance, and Jewish holidays, the Times of Israel reports.
Within Israel, the law has drawn strong opposition from the Druze, a monotheistic religious minority which, unlike Arab Israelis, is not exempt from the military draft. The Druze number about 150,000 people in Israel and have a strong tradition of military service in the Israeli army, the New York Times reports.