For first time, UN body calls on Israel to amend or cancel Jewish Nation-State Law; Adalah to Israeli AG: Oppose law at Supreme Court

UN CESCR: Israeli law violates int'l treaty, recommends restoring Arabic's official status, & details Israeli violations of Bedouin rights; Israel obligated to defend Nation-State Law before UN Commission on Racism next month.

A United Nations body has – for the first time – called on Israel to amend or cancel its Jewish Nation-State Law in order to comply with an international human rights convention that it ratified in 1991.


The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR)'s Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Israel, released on 18 October 2019, includes a list of concerns, recommendations, and actions that Israel must take in order to comply with its obligations.


This finding and recommendation marks the first time that a UN monitoring committee determined that the Jewish Nation-State Law does not comply with a human rights treaty ratified by Israel – and calls on Israel to either amend or repeal the law.


In response, attorney Myssana Morany of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent a letter on 6 November 2019 to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit calling on him to express his opposition to the law in a response he is slated to submit to the Israeli Supreme Court by Sunday, 17 November 2019.



In its 18 October 2019 document, UN CESCR raised deep concerns about the discriminatory effect of the law on Israel's non-Jewish population including their rights of self-determination, non-discrimination, and cultural rights.


UN CESCR also called on Israel to respond to its concerns regarding aggravation of already-existing ethnic segregation and from increasing budgetary discrimination in other concluding observations – particular the Bedouin population in the Naqab (Negev) region.


Adalah had earlier, on 7 August 2018, filed the Israeli Supreme Court petition against the Jewish Nation-State Law on behalf of all of the Arab political leadership in Israel – the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the National Committee of Arab Mayors, the Joint List parliamentary faction, and also in the name of Adalah. 


In today's letter, Adalah argues that UN CESCR's review strengthened arguments in its Supreme Court petition which maintain the Jewish Nation-State Law contradicts the key principles of human rights as enshrined in international treaties, including those in the UN Charter.


Adalah Attorney Morany spoke at the NGOs briefing to CESCR's review of Israel at United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, 30 September 2019. She emphasized that Israel's policy in the Naqab (Negev) desert is one of forced displacement and forced urbanization guided by the false and misleading depiction of the region as a vast empty space that must be used for settlement of Israeli Jewish citizens only.



UN CESCR conclusions: Israel's Jewish Nation-State Law


The Committee is deeply concerned about the possible discriminatory effect of the Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People on non-Jewish people in the State party regarding the enjoyment of their Covenant rights. It is also concerned that this Basic Law, by recognizing the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, may further deteriorate the economic, social cultural rights situations in the occupied territories, which have already significantly been hampered by the settlement policy (arts. 1(1), 2(2) and 15).


The Committee urges the State party to review the Basic Law with a view to bringing it in line with the Covenant or repealing it and to step up its efforts to eliminate discrimination faced by non-Jews in enjoying the Covenant rights, particularly rights of self-determination, non-discrimination and cultural rights.


UN CESCR conclusions: Rights of Bedouin citizens in Naqab (Negev) desert


The Committee raised concerns about:


  1. Bedouin citizens in unrecognized villages are being "evicted from their homes and ancestral lands and forced to relocate" to recognized townships recommended that Israel immediately stop evictions and regularize their villages (para 20c, 21c),;
  2. The "substandard living conditions" including in housing, water and sanitation, electricity, and public transportation in both unrecognized and recognized communities, and calling on the state to improve these conditions (para 20d, 21d);
  3. The "large number of unresolved land claims" that Bedouin citizens have put forward to Israeli state authorities, and called on the state to "step up its efforts" to address them (para 20a, 21a);
  4. The "disproportionately poor health status" and higher infant mortality rate of Arab citizens including Bedouins, and asked the state to increase budgets and take concrete measures to address them (para 54-55);
  5. High dropout rates and large gaps in educational achievements among Bedouin students compared to Jewish students and the shortage of classrooms and kindergartens in Bedouin communities, and recommended the state identify the root causes behind these problems in order to address them (para 62-63);
  6. The fact that no unrecognized Bedouin village in the Naqab is connected to the national water network, and that most recognized and unrecognized villages are not connected to sewage disposal infrastructure, and to rectify these lack of services (para 46-47);
  7. The "absence of meaningful participation of and consultation with" Bedouin citizens when designing policies that affect them, and recommended that it corrects this (para 20b, 21b);
  8. The limited enjoyment of the right to work for groups like Bedouin citizens and Arab women, and asked the state to "intensify its efforts to increase the labour market participation" of these groups and to provide "comprehensive and disaggregated data" on these issues (para 24-25);
  9. The rising incidence of poverty and high income inequality among Arab families including Bedouins, and recommended that the state analyze and address the "underlying causes of poverty" and reduce income inequality through "reforms of the tax system and the social security system" (para 42-43);
  10. The lack of measures to "promote cultural diversity", and recommended the state raise awareness of Arab culture including the Bedouins (para 68-69).


UN CESCR conclusions: Status of Arabic language in Israel


[The Committee] is particularly concerned that, despite the explanation given by the Delegation, about the downgrading the status of the Arab language from an official language to a language with special status through the adoption of the Basic Law – Israel: the State Nation of the Jewish People. It is also concerned by the very low level of funding allocated to the High Institute for the Arabic Language, which amounts at NIS 1,450,000 in 2019, in light of the Arab population comprising 20 per cent of the State party’s population (art. 15).


The Committee recommends that the State party take the measures to promote diverse cultures, including through raising awareness of various cultures of the Arab population, the Bedouin people, migrant workers and asylum seekers. It also recommends that the State party reinstate the Arab language as an official language and promote the use of the Arab language, including through strengthening the High Institute for the Arabic Language, inter alia by increasing financial resources allocated to it.




The UN and Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law


Other UN human rights experts have spoken out on Israel's Jewish Nation-State Law.


In November 2018, four UN Special Rapporteurs expressed "deep concern" that the Jewish Nation-State Law is "discriminatory in nature and in practice against non-Jewish citizens and other minorities and does not apply the principle of equality between citizens, which is one of the key principles for democratic political systems."


In early October 2019, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued the list of issues it attends to address in its periodic review of the State of Israel slated to take place in Geneva in December. The Jewish Nation-State Law in included in this list, after Adalah submitted a report to the committee on the issue, as well.



Adalah action at the UN


Adalah and the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) had earlier submitted two joint reports to the UN Committee focusing on Israel’s violations, primarily concerning the rights of Bedouin citizens of Israel living in the Naqab (Negev).



One of the subjects raised in the reports, among many, concerned the Jewish Nation-State Law and how it institutes ethnic segregation as a new legal norm throughout the Land of Israel (Article 1). Within the Green Line, the report emphasized that the law is likely to be used to establish exclusively Jewish towns in areas where Arab citizens are most concentrated, including in the Naqab (Negev), as the law stipulates the development of Jewish settlement as a “national value” that must be encouraged, promoted and consolidated (Article 7).