Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law was condemned as “racist” at a seminar held in the Palace of Westminster yesterday by EuroPal Forum whose chairman, Zaher Birawi, described the legislation as “racist”. The law was ratified by the Knesset in July last year.
Hosted by British Labour MP Andy Slaughter and chaired by journalist and researcher Nasim Ahmed, the seminar brought together individuals from the legal, diplomatic and public policy fields. The intention was to elucidate a more nuanced understanding of the Nation-State Law while also communicating the various steps that could be taken by the international community to challenge Israel’s violations of international law. The “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” has been criticised widely, described by Palestinians and members of the international community alike as both discriminatory and verging on apartheid.
“Much of the western world is taken up with other political problems such as Brexit,” British-Palestinian lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub told MEMO, “so it is really important that this issue doesn’t fall off the agenda.” Speaking at the event in parliament, Karmi-Ayyoub mentioned the implications of the Israeli law and the right of Palestinians to exercise self-determination within the State of Israel as well as in the occupied territories.
British-Palestinian academic and political commentator Professor Kamel Hawwash pointed out that the law in question states very clearly that only Jews have a right to self-determination in the land of Israel. “It is extremely important to discuss this openly here and to begin to talk to our government to explain that that’s what Israel has done and what its nature is,” he added. “We need to put pressure on the government to think about disassociating itself from a state that is, in practice, an apartheid state.”
The Nation-State Law effectively codifies discrimination against Palestinians through the exclusive recognition of Jewish rights to self-determination in the land of Israel, thus forcing the issue of the legitimate right of return off the agenda of future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Furthermore, it entrenches an apartheid system in Israel through the selective status awarded to Hebrew and the removal of Arabic as an official language, and leads to the marked complication of the two-state solution through its classification of Jerusalem as the “complete and united capital of Israel”. According to international law, the city of Jerusalem — all of it — is occupied territory, having been declared to be subject to a “Special International Regime” in the 1947 UN Partition Plan from which Israel takes its legitimacy. Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem has never been recognised by the international community.
Although Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats in the British parliament, Órfhlaith Begley MP told MEMO that she attended the seminar specifically to discuss the implications of nation-state law. She reiterated her party’s condemnation of the legislation. “We’re calling upon the Irish government to condemn it also,” she said, pointing out that Sinn Fein has made a number of calls for the recognition of the State of Palestine.
The seminar was part of a series organised by EuroPal Forum across Europe, including one at the European Parliament. “The aim,” explained Birawi, “is to expose racist policies in the Israeli State and put before European politicians their responsibility to reject such racist legislation and put pressure on Israel to end its discriminatory practices and its illegal occupation of Palestine.” The veteran activist stressed that the Nation-State Law needs to be challenged at the grassroots and parliamentary levels as a matter of urgency.