By Noah Feldman
With elections looming, Israel is locked in a constitutional struggle for its democratic soul. The latest development: Israel’s high court, in a decision reversing the nation’s elections commission, has banned the leader of a Jewish-supremacist far-right party for running for Knesset while allowing a left-wing Arab party that calls for Palestinian equality and challenges the Jewish nature of the state.
The decision matters because of a change to Israel’s unwritten constitution. In 2018, the Knesset enacted a controversial new “basic law” — the closest thing to a constitutional amendment the country has — on the topic of Israel as a nation-state. The basic law declared self-determination to be the right of Israel’s Jews, but not of other Israelis.
On the strength of that new law, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently wrote that Israel is not a state for all its citizens, but for its Jewish citizens. His interpretation marked the first time an Israeli prime minister publicly suggested that Israelis of non-Jewish origin are second-class citizens.
Netanyahu is about to be under indictment on multiple corruption charges, and is fighting for his political survival. His statement was aimed at convincing voters not to pick his centrist rival Benny Gantz, because (Netanyahu claimed) Gantz will form a coalition that will rely on the votes of Arab-Israeli parties.