All states are exclusionary. They all divide people into two groups;
nationals and aliens (foreigners). The former group is included and
the latter excluded. States treat people in these groups
differently. For example, in the US, illegal immigrants are sometimes
deported, they can't vote, and they don't enjoy the same protections
the state extends to nationals. This is a form of discrimination based
on nationality. We tolerate it because the current world order -- the
world divided into states -- couldn't possibly work otherwise (and
perhaps also because the system greatly benefits people in the
industrialized world at the expense of people in the third world).
Israel defines all Jews as its nationals. From the Nation-State law:
A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish
people, in which the State of Israel was established.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in
which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious, and historical
right to self-determination.
C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of
Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
It follows that all non-Jews are its aliens.
What makes Israel unique is the separation of nationality from
citizenship.1 Israel has an older law from 1953 called,
confusingly, the "Nationality Law" that defines its citizens:
2. Nationality by return
(a)Every "oleh" [a Jew wishing to "return"] under the Law of Return,
5710-1950, shall become an Israel national by return unless Israel
nationality has been conferred on him by birth under section 4. ...
3. Nationality by residence in Israel
(a)A person who, immediately before the establishment of the State,
was a Palestinian citizen and who does not become an Israel national
under section 2, shall become an Israel national with effect from
the day of the establishment of the State if:
(1) he was registered on the 4th Adar, 5712 (1st March 1952) as an
inhabitant under the Registration of Inhabitants Ordinance,
(2) he is an inhabitant of Israel on the day of the coming into
force of this Law; and ...
4. Nationality by birth
(a)The following shall, from the date of their birth, be Israel
nationals by birth: ...
Israel: Nationality Law
and so forth.
This distinction does not exist in most other states' laws. An
American citizen is an American national and a member of the American
people. Indeed, the definition of "being American" is having an
American citizenship. Israel's distinction between nationals and
citizens in this way leads to some very interesting consequences.
Naturalization is a process under which an alien can become a national
of a state he or she previously weren't a national of. Becoming an
Israeli national is to become Jewish, that is, to undergo a religious
conversion overseen by an authoritative religious
body. Denaturalization is the opposite. Whether a Jew can cease being
Jewish is a controversial topic. In the eyes of the Israeli state it
is possible, but probably requires a religious conversion. This was
elaborated on in 1962 when the Polish Jew Oswald Rufeisen, who had
converted to Catholicism, sought to immigrate to Israel. The Israeli
Supreme Court denied his application, arguing that "no one can regard
an apostate as belonging to the Jewish people".2 Refeisen
himself insisted on that he was still a Jew.3
Another consequence of the Israeli view on nationality is,
paradoxically, the denial of the existence of an Israeli
nationality. Israeli identity cards used to carry a person's
"nationality" or "ethnic affiliation" and the choices for this field
included Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian, Russian, Egyptian, etc, but,
conspicuously, Israeli, was absent. Human rights activists petitioned
the courts to have themselves registered as Israeli. Their goal was
to build or demonstrate an Israeli nationality that would encompass
everyone living in Israel - Jews and Arabs alike. One such petition in
1971 was denied with the Court asserting that "there is no Israeli
nation separate from the Jewish people."4 A similar
petition was brought forward in 2007 and also denied. The Supreme
Court decided that "[t]he existence of an Israeli ethnic nationality has
not been proven" and warned that such a nationality would jeopardize
"the Jewish and the democratic nature of the state".5
Now to your questions:
Something isn't for (or of) a specific people, unless it excludes
others. Does the term "of the Jewish People" given the context of
the law exclude others on the basis on religion, or race and
It excludes on both race and religion, with religion taking
precedence. Otherwise Rufeisen's immigration application wouldn't have
been denied because his conversion to Christianity changed his
religion but not his race/ethnicity. Interestingly, Jews who support the BDS
movement may be barred from entering Israel, but would likely not be
prevented from immigrating to Israel.6 Which might seem odd
given that the Israeli government has declared the BDS movement its
number one enemy. It would seem that religious apostasy (Catholicism)
is worse than "political apostasy" (anti-Zionism).
Under what circumstance could the State of Israel operate such that
the law would fall into conflict with the practices of government
and people could conclude that Israel was no longer "of the Jewish
Laws define how state operate and states cannot act in defiance of
their own laws. I think people would conclude that Israel was no
longer "of the Jewish people" if the numerous Israeli laws defining
the state as of and for the Jewish people were rescinded or
amended. But it's unlikely to happen in the near future, since many
such legislative initiatives have been shut down in the
Does this law exclude the possibility of a single-state solution
where all Palestinians are given universal suffrage and equal
rights, including the right of return, in the government?
It would seem so. As stated, states are free to discriminate (within
bounds set by international law) against aliens and give preferential
treatment to nationals. Since the law declares that non-Jews are
aliens, why should they be given equal rights? Israel is not unique in
not affording the same rights to aliens as to nationals. What is
unique about Israel is how it defines its nationals.
- I hope this does not get too confusing. In international law nationality is often used as a synonym for citizenship. Here I'm trying to explain why they are different concepts in Israeli law.
- The Definition of a Jew under Israel's Law of Return
- Religion: Definition of a Jew
- Race and the Issue of National Indentity in Israel
- Court nixes push for ‘Israeli nationality’
- Despite BDS Blacklist, Jewish Agency Won't Block Boycott Supporters From Immigrating to Israel
- Knesset rejects bill to ensure full equality between all Israeli citizens