April 19, 2019

There's Nothing Uncommon About the Nation-State Law

“Why all the outrage?, ask Moshe Koppel and Eugene Kontorovich in their essay about the uproar over Israel’s new Basic Law: Nation-State—a question they then proceed to answer with great cogency. I don’t, myself, see anything inherently objectionable in the new law. It does worry me, however, that a set of propositions aimed at solidifying constitutional norms in Israel should have generated so much contention. During my time in Jerusalem this summer, a number of Israelis told me they weren’t against anything in the law but were unsure it was worth all the commotion it provoked.

I hope that Koppel and Kontorovich are right in their forecast that, within “a decade or two . . . when the political dust has settled,” people will regard this law as a “seminal moment in Israel’s maturation.” But will it really curb the activist tendencies of the Israel Supreme Court—or will it instead spur the Court to counteract what it sees as a dangerous constitutional innovation? Will the Druze community and other constituencies now complaining about the law finally accept it—or will they become ever more sensitive to perceived slights?

I don’t know. As an outsider to the Israeli debate, my guesses aren’t worth sharing, anyway. I can, however, say something about the outside world. Although Israel is a quite unique country in some ways, it is not so unique in its handling of issues treated in the nation-state law. A glance at other nations shows just how little agreement there is on how much should be included in a constitution and on what a nation may do to accommodate or safeguard its predominant culture.”

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