Monthly Archives

December 2015

Civics Studies , Education or Unidirectional Indoctrination?

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Dr. Yizhak Geiger

In the past few years, the study of Civics has become an integral part of the Israeli curriculum.  This development, which is positive in its nature, was accompanied by fundamental failures such as inadequate preparation of the core curriculum and the publishing of unsuitable textbooks and materials. These steps were taken without proper public discussion and granted too much power to the current dominant ideological group in the Israeli academia, when it allowed it to design the curriculum according to its will and to leave a long term impression on the conscious of the citizens ofIsrael and the future of the State.

This position paper demonstrates that this failure is a painful blow on four dimensions: Zionist education, democratic education, the teaching of critical thinking, and the chance of reducing the tension between the various sectors of Israeli society.  The full position paper, by Dr. Yizhak Geiger, civics teacher and former member of the civics committee in the Education Ministry, presents the situation report in detail and includes summaries and recommendations. Included in his recommendations are: revising the values and viewpoints included in the core curriculum, stressing the importance of supervision over the implementation of this plan, rewriting the tests and developing new literature in the subject.


Downloadable Documents (In Hebrew):


  1. Position Paper on Civics Studies – Operative Recommendations.


  1. Abstract – Civics Studies , Education or Unidirectional Indoctrination?.


  1. Meeting Of The Knesset Education Committee Concerning The Paper


  1.  Bias In Civics Studies- Select Examples


  1.  Teaching of Civics– Full follow-up report 2012



Teaching History in Israel and the World

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Prof. Yoav Gelber


For years, Israeli society has been in a state of bewilderment.  It has been experiencing conflict over its identity, sources of authority and ethos. The line of division is the Six Day War – the elimination of the existential threat eroded the ethos of one for all in favor of self-fulfillment.

Under market and political pressures, educational institutions – universities, colleges and schools – speculate over the quality of their national purpose (and if they even have one), over their social function and over their academic and educational direction.  The public controversies over the teaching of history in universities and schools reflect the Zionist movement’s loss of direction.  Historians consider the contradictions between the extent and profundity of scientific work on the past and their desire to influence the present by means of participation in debates in the public sphere.  Often the submission to the constraints of the media lowers the level of historical discussion and confines it to the framework, language, time and scope of television talk shows and newspaper opinion columns.

In academia, the discipline of history has been split into a number of sub-disciplines, to the extent that it may be becoming too eclectic.   Despite the scope of the disciplines and the variety of their subjects, the position of the discipline of history in Israel is on the decline.  The number of students is dwindling, and the relative ease of acceptance is often what persuades students to choose history, and students are met with the postmodernist, post-Zionist and relativist approaches of some of their educators, who are intolerant of other approaches.  These trends tailor the character of high school history teachers to be less qualified and more conformist.

In an era of mandatory education, when history classes are obligatory for at least some years, the entire population is exposed to the curriculums, syllabuses, textbooks and teachers of history.  Schools in general, and specifically history classes, are a key tool that influences the “collective memory” and instills it in our youth.

Since the nineties, post-Zionist academic scholars seeking to destroy the Israeli “collective memory” blamed the public school system for indoctrinating students (as they claimed), and instead of instilling values originating from national history they emphasize the postmodernist view which presents different narratives and their political functions.  However, unlike universities, schools must educate their students, not provide them with disciplinary training.  The dubious contemporary Israeli practice – concealing national history by merging it with world history – reverses the proper order in which things should be done.

A curriculum must present the few basic concepts that a society wishes to instill in (or teach) its future generation, and not what students (or their parents) wish to acquire (or learn). There will always be discontented teachers, parents and students. Teachers will adapt the curriculum to their personal approach to teaching and to history, and to a certain extent this is legitimate. Certain parents will always be critical of the curriculum and they have the means at their disposal by which they may and even should be able to partially influence it.  Better students will not be satisfied with what their school has to offer and may be directed to additional sources of information beyond the textbook.  Other students may have difficulty grasping the basic concepts presented in such a curriculum, but the large majority should fall between these two extremes and should be the target population the curriculum attempts to reach.

To The Full Position Paper (In English)

The Pedagogic Commitie In Israel

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Dr Zvi Tzameret, who served as the director of the Pedagogic Secretariat at the Ministry of  Education in the years 2010 and 2011, sums up his period of office and presents a number of fundamental failings in the Israeli educational system: the limited functioning of the Pedagogic Secretariat; the politicization underlying the subject of Israeli culture; the multiplicity of subjects offered for the Bagrut examinations; the status of the core subjects; and the methods of teaching civics.

For the Full Position Paper

Public Diplomacy Studies for Israeli High School Students

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Zeev Ben-Shachar

In recent years the State of Israel continually finds itself isolated in the international arena. A significant rise in anti-Israeli sentiment is evident, especially during times of political stagnation or regional instability.
At times like this, there is a tendency, sometimes justifiable, to point the finger at flawed government policy and ineffective Israel advocacy.
After delivering hundreds of lectures to thousands of students in Israel and abroad, we believe that there is another reason for the decline in Israel’s international standing.

Then Satan Said/ Natan Alterman
(translated from Hebrew)
..Satan then said:
How do I overcome
This besieged one?
He has courage
And talent,
And implements of war
And resourcefulness.
…only this shall I do,
I’ll dull his mind
And cause him to forget
The justice of his cause

It has to do with the notion that we – the Israeli people – have lost conviction in the justness of our cause, Zionism. This assessment is based on the premise that Israel advocacy needs to start from within – we believe that the degree to which Israelis better understand and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, is the degree to which we will be able to represent ourselves effectively abroad.
The purpose of this proposal to the Ministry of Education is to introduce the study of public diplomacy to Israeli high schools. The public diplomacy track (The program will either be required of all students, or made optional for specialty track students) will provide Israeli teenagers with a basic understanding of the history and current status of the Arab-Israeli conflict, something that has thus far been significantly lacking from the history and civic studies tracks. It will also teach students the theory and practice of public diplomacy, and provide them with practical skills in effective communication. Throughout the program, students will be exposed to books, articles, literature and films about improving Israel’s standing in the international arena.
Contributing Team
Project Manager and Lead Author: Ze’ev Ben-Shachar, Educator and Program Manager at The David Project
Lead Researcher and Co-Writer: Maor Shani, PhD Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences
Consulting Committee:

    1. Senior Consultant: Adi Arbel, Program Manager at the Institute of Zionist Strategies
    2. Professor Asher Cohen: Chairman of Civics Studies Panel at Ministry of Education and Political Science Professor at Bar Ilan University
    3. Dr. Simcha Goldin: Chairman of History Studies Panel at Ministry of Education and Jewish History Professor at Tel Aviv University
    4. Professor Orit Ichilov: Sociologist and Emeritus Professor at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University
    5. Dr. Zvi Zameret: former Chair of the Pedagogical Secretariat at Ministry of Education and Professor at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center
    6. Ari Applbaum: Director of Israel Operations, The David Project

Contributing Writers: Adi Arbel, Ari Applbaum, Tal Bar-On, Yoni Biron, Sara Kampler, Noa Sherman-Goldfinger
Note: The purpose of this proposal is to give students a basic understanding of the conflict, provide them with effective communication skills, and to instill in them Zionist values ​​and “Ahavat Ha’Aretz” (love of the land).  At the same time, the program will strive as much as possible, to avoid taking a stand on political issues and matters of government policy. Ultimately, the goal of this program is to train and inspire young Israeli leaders to continue engaging in public diplomacy as part of their public service in Israel and abroad, and to be comfortable doing so regardless of where they are across the political spectrum.
Additionally, much public diplomacy talent can no doubt be found in the periphery, where there are as many capable youngsters as in the center of Israel. This program will be congruently by offered and developed in the periphery, with the goal of helping students overcome social and economic obstacles.

Appendix 1: Program Syllabus
The following is a sample of themes and topics that will be included in the curriculum of public diplomacy:

  1. Historical Dimension:
    1. The right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the land of Israel: historical, international and legal rights
    2. Key events and processes in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and their impact on the State of Israel today: the British Mandate, the 1948 War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Intifadas, and the peace process
    3. Historical context for central issues often discussed such as refugees, occupation and Apartheid
  1. Physical Dimension:
    1. Israel in the regional context: geopolitical maps of Israel and the Middle East
    2. Geopolitical changes in the Middle East: the 2010-2013 turmoil in the region (“Arab Spring”), tensions between “moderates” and “radicals,” the Sunni-Shiite divide, the Iranian threat
    3. Israel in the global context: between international support and opposition (boycott, divestment and sanctions).
  1. Moral Dimension:
    1. Moral dilemmas and right vs. right decisions Israel faces
    2. Where does one draw the line between legitimate allegations and Israel hatred? (using Natan Sharansky’s 3D Test for anti-Semitism: de-legitimization, demonization and double standards)
  1. Israel beyond the Conflict/ “Tikun Olam”:
    1. Innovation and technology
    2. Humanitarian initiatives in third world countries
  1. The Palestinian Narrative:
    1. The rise of Palestinian identity
    2. A national struggle
    3. The peace process
  1. Public Diplomacy:
    1. Understanding the place of public diplomacy in advancing a country’s interests
    2. Nation branding – theory, examples of successful branding, and understanding the rationale behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Brand Israel project
  1. Communication skills:
    1. Public speaking
    2. Debating skills
    3. Responding to difficult questions on core issues surrounding the conflict
  1. Leadership skills:
    1. Principles of effective activism
    2. Planning and implementing Israel advocacy campaigns in the community
  1. Media:
    1. Becoming critical consumers of the media
    2. Learning to utilize mass media to shape public opinion on Israel
    3. Using Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other platforms) to run campaigns, influence existing social networks and expand reach of message to additional social networks
  1. Tours in Israel:
    1. Visiting places and people in the heart of the conflict: security barrier, checkpoints, Sderot and East Jerusalem
    2. Getting to know Israel and Israelis beyond the conflict: high-tech companies, encounters with Israeli entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations engaged in humanitarian initiatives in third world countries
  1. Regional Conferences:
    1. Nation-wide debate competitions
    2. Continuous communication and updates through student blogs, online forums and social media campaigns

For the full position paper (in Hebrew)

Jewish Nationl Home- IZS Proposal

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Basic Law: The National Home


The State of Israel was established as a Jewish state. Previous to its founding, the international community (speaking through the League of Nations and the UN Charter) had established and administered the British mandate to help ensure this result, and the General Assembly called for theestablishment of Jewish and Arab states in November 1949. In its Declaration of Independence, the newly established Jewish state was defined as the National Home of the Jewish People.  The Declaration also set forth some of the democratic principles to govern the State. For more than fifty there had been a broad public consensus in Israel regarding the meaning of a Jewish state and of the National Home of the Jewish People. But in recent years, there has been a change. A strong segment of the academic, intellectual and judicial establishment in Israel has been working to see to it that Israel becomes a liberal-democratic state instead of aJewish state and the National Home of the Jewish People. The state this group seeks to fashion would retain certain Jewish characteristics, but only those which do not infringe upon the principle of absolute equality. This extreme approach distorts the intentions of the nation’s founding fathers and the objective and moral reasons for Israel’s creation It would alter the Jewish nature of Israel and decimate its centrality and strength for theJewish People.


Clearly therefore, there is a pressing need to establish by law the fundamental characteristics of Israel as a Jewish state and the National Home for the Jewish People. This legislation must be in the form of a Basic Law so that it will not be undermined and eroded by judicial fiat. The IZS has drafted just such a Basic Law. The IZS draft law also includes provisions for the State to promote Jewish culture, history, education, and aliyah. It reaffirms and strengthens the connection of the Jewish state to the Jewish People, and the Jewish characteristics of the State, such as the centrality of Jerusalem, Hebrew as the official language, the Jewish calendar, and the national flag and anthem.


Basic Law: The National Home

National Home

  1. The State of Israel is a Jewish state and the National Home of the Jewish People; wherein the Jewish People fulfills its yearning for self-determination in accordance with its historical and cultural heritage.[1][1]Only the Jewish nation is entitled to the right to national self-determination within the State of Israel.



  1. This Basic Law and all other laws shall be interpreted in conformity with Clause 1.


Preservation of Culture, Heritage and Identity

  1. Each resident of Israel, without regard to his religion or nationality, shall be entitled to strive for the preservation of his culture, heritage and self identity.The State may permit a community, including the members of a single religion or the members of a single nationality, to establish separate seettlements and communities.


Anthem, Flag and Symbol

  1. The national anthem is “Hatikva”; the flag is white, two blue stripes along its top and bottom margins and a blue Star of David at its center; the state symbol is a seven-branched menorah with olive branches on either side of the menorah and the word “Israel” at its base.[1][2]


  1. Every Jew shall have the right to immigrate to Israel and to obtain citizenship in accordance with the provisions of law.[1][3]


Ingathering of the Exiles and Jewish Settlement

  1. A. The State will act to ingather the exiles of Israel.
  2. The State shall promote Jewish settlement in Israel and shall allocate    lands and resources for Jewish settlement. [1][4]


The Connection to the Jewish People in the Diaspora

  1. A. The State will act to strengthen the connection between Israel and the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
  2. The State will act for the well being of members of the Jewish People who are in distress.



  1. Hebrew is the official state language.


The Official Calendar

  1. The Hebrew Calendar is the official State calendar.[1][5]


Independence Day

  1. Independence Day is the national holiday of the State.


Days of Rest

  1. The established days of rest in the State of Israel are the Sabbath and the Jewish Holidays; an employee shall not work on these days of rest; individuals belonging to legally recognized ethnic groups shall be entitled to refrain from work on their holidays. All of the above as regulated by statute.[1][6]



  1. The laws of Kashrut shall be observed in the IDF and in all national institutions.


Preservation of The Jewish Heritage

  1. The state will work to preserve and nurture the historical and cultural heritage of the Jewish People.


The Study of Jewish Heritage

  1. The history of the Jewish people, its heritage and its traditions shall be taught in all educational institutions serving the Jewish public.


Jewish Civil Law

  1. Jewish civil law shall serve as a resource of wisdom for legislation.  Where a court is to deecide a dispute which cannot be resolved by existing statute, by judicial precedent, or by strict legal analogy, it shall render its decision in accordance with  the principles of freedom, justice, equity, and peace derived from Jewish civil law.


Basic Law

  1. This Basic Law may not be changed or amended, except by a Basic Law passed by a majority of the Members of the Knesset.




[1][1]        From the Declaration of Independence.

[1][2]        Taken from the Flag, Symbol and Anthem Law 5709, 1949

[1][3]                        The concept appears in the Law of Return 5710, 1950.

[1][4]                        Based on the Declaration of Independence.

[1][5]                        This clause is based upon the instructions stated in the

Law for the usage of the Hebrew date 5758, 1998.

[1][6]                        Based on Clause 7 of the Work and Rest Hours Law 5711, 1951.

Jewish National Home

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The State of Israel as the National Home of the Jewish People

Dubi Helman & Adi Arbel

Executive Summary

Read The IZS Proposal Summary


The State of Israel was established as a Jewish state.  This is clear from the terms of the League of Nations Mandate to establish a Jewish Homeland, from the UN Charter (which assumed responsibility for and continued this Mandate), from the UN Resolution of November 29, 1947 calling for the establishment of Jewish and Arab states, and from Israel’s Declaration of Independence (quoted below).


Israel’s character and behavior have always manifested its mission as a Jewish Homeland and the vast majority of Israelis have always so regarded their Country.  However, a small group of intellectuals have been advocating a radical liberal form of democracy which would elevate the ideal of absolute equality among all groups above all other democratic values (such as national self-determination, majority rule, liberty,  and civil rights).  This view has infiltrated the decisions of the Supreme Court whose members are  appointed by a committee dominated by sitting Supreme Court judges without any ratification process.


Recently, leaders of the Israeli Arab population have issued calls for the conversion of Israel into a bi-national state without any connection to the Jewish people or culture.


Because of this radical liberal influence and the court decisions undermining the Zionist foundations of the State, because of the direct challenge to the Jewish character of the state by central elements of the Israeli Arab leadership, because the Arabs outside of Israel still refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state despite Israel’s insistence; it is imperative that Israel enact a Basic Law setting forth clearly that Israel is a Jewish state and the Nation Homeland of the Jewish people, and defining explicitly its Jewish character and mission.



The State of Israel as the National Home of the Jewish People[1]



“As of Natural Right” – Introduction


“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped… Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland… In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.


This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home…


… On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel… This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.


This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State…”

(From: The Declaration of Independence, 5708, 1948)


“By Virtue of Natural Right” – Background

The State of Israel was established as a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, by virtue of the historical connection between the Nation of Israel and its land and by the recognition and approval of the nations of the world.  In the  Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, the new State was defined by the members of the National Council[2] as the National Home[3] of the Jewish People and the foundations were laid to ensure that it would be a Jewish State with a democratic government.[4] During the sixty years of the State, a wide acceptance of this definition has prevailed in the Zionist public.[5]


As  part of the Declaration, it was determined that the elected constituent assembly would ratify a constitution within half a year of the establishment of the State.  Because of the existential wars imposed on the State of Israel since its birth and because of  political disagreements (many of them partisan), Israel has remained until today without a constitution.  Because of this, the State of Israel’s legal character as the National Home of the Jewish People was never explicitly delineated, leaving us only with the general principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.


In the past, the State’s status as National Home for the Jewish People was never questioned: it was obvious to the public and to the authorities, including the Judiciary.  Practical manifestation of the Jewish status of the state can be seen in the very name of the State and from a multitude of laws such as the Flag, Symbol and Anthem Law 5709-1949; the Independence Law 5709-1949; the Law of Return 5710-1950 (which grants each Jew with the right to immigrate to Israel); the Work and Rest Hours Law 5711-1951 (which adopts the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays as days of rest); laws that institutionalize the cooperation between the State of Israel and the National Institutions of the Jewish People, and many more.  Additionally, the State of Israel initiated programs and invested resources for the welfare of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, including: the promoting of Aliya to the Land of Israel, programs to bring Jews to the Galilee, assisting in the Aliya of Ethiopian Jewry, supporting Jewish Zionist education, memorializing the Holocaust, and others.


In recent years, a back-peddling trend has developed, which weakens the position of the State of Israel as the National Home of the Jewish People. The State of Israel, which was established as a Jewish State with a democratic form of government, would be turned into a liberal-democratic country with Jewish characteristics only to the extent that these characteristics do not contradict the principle of absolute equality among all groups.  This radical liberal approach regards strict and absolute adherence to rigid and ubiquitous equality as the exclusive supreme value in a democratic society.  The only acceptable substantive[6] departure from this all pervasive and supreme equality allowed to the Jewish people is the “special house key given to members of the Jewish People”[7], in other words, The Law of Return, 5710-1950.  But inside this house-within Israel-one must treat Jews and Arabs, as individuals and as a collective,identically.


This radical liberal interpretation has not been generally adopted by Western democracies which also regard other fundamental principles such as liberty,  civil rights, and majority rule as primary elements of democratic rule.  Moreover, preference of the founding national group is a common feature of some of our strongest democracies[8].  This elevation of equality by the back-peddlers to an exclusive supreme value in Israel would deny the Jewish people its right to self-determination, seriously distorts democratic principles, violates the intention of the founding fathers, and thwarts legitimate majority rule.  It leads to the warped conclusion that all laws contributing to the Jewish character of Israel are undemocratic (except for now, the Law of Return) and must therefore be annulled.


Time to Act


The emergence of this Jewish self-denial and back-peddling soon lead to an Arab call for the de-judaization of the Jewish state.  In 2006, the National Board of Arab Regional Councils published is future vision for Palestinian Arabs in Israel[9].  This vision rejects the Declaration of Independence and calls for a bi-national state.[10]


The Arabs, according to the wording of their manifesto, claim citizenship in the State of Israel but they eschew any loyalty to that state as actually established, developed, and internationally recognized.[11]  Indeed they fervently espouse a vision which is not only different: it is mutually exclusive.


Because of this internal confusion about the Jewish character of the state on the part of a very small but very influential minority of the Jews in Israel; because of the direct challenge to the Jewish character of the state by recent Supreme Court decisions; because of the direct challenge to the Jewish character of the state by certain elements of the leadership of the Arabs in Israel; because the Arabs outside of Israel still refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state despite Israel’s insistence;[12] it is imperative that Israel enact a Basic Law setting forth clearly that Israel is a Jewish state and the Nation Homeland of the Jewish people, and defining explicitly its Jewish character and mission.



[1]                    This material is extracted and modified from a position paper of the Institute for Zionist Strategies submitted submitted

by Dubi Helman and Adi Arbel

[2]     The Declaration of the State of Israel was signed by the members of the National Council, which was constituted of representatives of the entire Jewish population of that time, including Communist and Haredi representatives.

[3]     The term “National Home” is believed to have stemmed from the Zionist platform that was defined in the First Zionist Congress in Basel, 5657-1897: The goal of Zionism is “establishing a National Home for the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, which is to be protected by International Law…” (For more details in Hebrew, see

[4]     While Israel is not defined or described as a democracy in the Declaration of Independence, democratic governmental precepts are delineated.  For example “The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

[5]     Public awareness of the Declaration of Independence was reinforced during the sixtieth year of the State due to an initiative by the Young Leadership Forum of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, in an attempt to have each of the members of Knesset re-sign the Declaration of Independence. Ninety MKs re-signed the Declaration.

[6]     “Substantive” as opposed to symbolic expressions such as the anthem, to which there are those who object to its being recognized as a representative anthem of the citizens of the State.  Not all of the back peddlers agree to this exception.

[7]     See the words of former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak in the Supreme Court ruling 6698/95, Aadal Kadan et al v. The Israel Land Administration. Ruling 54 (1).

[8]     See Golovensky and Gilboa, 36 Azure, page 28 (and footnote 18, citing Yakobsen and Rubinstein, Israel and the Family of Nations.

[9]     The Future Vision For Palestinian Arabs in Israel, the Regional Board for Arab Council Heads, 2006. This was soon followed by other similar proposals by three Israeli Arab organizations.

[10]    The mission statement clearly states: “The definition of the State as a Jewish State and the usage of democracy to further its Jewish nature excludes us and places us in conflict with the nature and essence of the state in which we live.  Therefore, we demand a consociationalism democratic government which will enable us… to ensure our national, historical, civil, individual and collective rights.”, and “In the center of the collective-national equality we demand for Palestinian Arabs, we request a basic principle, that is the full and real equal partnership, as individuals and as a group, in all of the public resources of the State: the political, the material, and the symbolic.”


[11]    The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, November 29, 1947 called for the establishment of  “independent  Arab and Jewish States” in Palestine.  The recognition of Israel by the United States reads as follows: ” The government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional government thereof.  The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new state of Israel.”                              “.

[12]    Two US presidents have now publicly and explicitly called for a Palestinian state to be established which would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The Status of Arabic in the State of Israel

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An analysis of the current legal situation

Dr. Aviad Bakshi

It is commonly assumed that there are two official languages in Israel: Hebrew and Arabic. This assumption is not merely an academic theory, but serves as the basis for efforts to strengthen the status of Arabic as a language to be used for public purposes. In other words, many who are under the impression that Arabic has the legal status of an official language seek to maintain it as such.

The purpose of this document is to clarify for decision makers the current legal situation governing Arabic in Israel. This will enable them to make an informed and balanced decision concerning its future status. After the legal ramifications of an official language presented, it will be evident that Arabic is not an official language in Israel.

The State is permitted, and sometimes obligated, to provide linguistic accessibility to government services for speakers of various languages. An official language, though, differs from linguistic accessibility to government services on an as-needed basis, in that it grants a permanent and comprehensive status to the chosen language. An official language is the language in which the government operates in every respect, with all the functional and symbolic significance entailed.

According to Article 81 of the Palestine Order in Council (on which the claim that Arabic is an official language is based), an official language is not limited to enabling citizens to access information, but is the language with which the government operates in general. The official language may be used in courts and government offices, by both the citizens, and judges and officials. Any official government publication must be made the official language(s). The legislature’s choice of an official language therefore expresses a cultural choice concerning the language of government activity, and the public language in its sphere of influence, with all the derivative functional and symbolic significance.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, the Provisional State Council passed the Law and Administration Ordinance and established that any Mandate law shall continue to be in effect, provided that it does not contradict any later legislation or ruling. In light of the full definition of an official language, it would be sufficient to prove that the legislature denied Arabic such a status in a number of key instances to demonstrate that the legislature does not see Arabic as an official language.

The preference of Hebrew as an exclusive official language can be seen from later Israeli legislation, such as: the Criminal Law Procedure Regulations, the Military Justice Law, the Civil Law Procedure Regulations, the Israel Bar Association Law, the Israel Nationality Law, the Planning and Building Law, the Knesset Elections Law, the Physicians’ Ordinance amendment. In contrast with the legislation that gives preference to Hebrew, some Israeli legislation grants equal status to Arabic (and sometimes Yiddish and Russian as well): the Mandatory Tender Regulations, the Television Broadcasts from the Knesset law, the Second Authority for Television and Radio law, the Arabic Language Academy law, and the Films Act. This legislation is generally intended to increase access to information for Arabic speakers, rather than as a symbolic cultural statement.

In light of the all encompassing characteristics of an official language, it is clear that Arabic does have a defined legal status in certain specific legal areas, but that the status of an official language originally granted by Article 82 has long ceased to exist.

The facts parallel the legal situation: Arabic’s status is complex, or more accurately, inconsistent. At times it appears that Arabic has some special status, and at times, it does not. Since, if Arabic were indeed an official language, the government would be required to conduct all its affairs bilingually, we confidently conclude that as a matter of practice, the only official language in the State of Israel is Hebrew.

The question of the status of the Arabic language in relation to the Hebrew language has been raised in the Supreme Court a number of times. A comparison of its rulings from the earlier decades of the State and those beginning in the nineties shows considerable modification. In its earlier rulings, the Court refused to grant Arabic any official status even when legislation explicitly required the use of the Arabic language. In the nineties, the court began to issue rulings that limited the exclusive status of the Hebrew language. For example, in the Kestenbaum case, the court disqualified a ruling that forbade the use of foreign letters alongside Hebrew letters on a private tombstone, but stated that in and of itself, the government’s ability to obligate an individual to use Hebrew was legitimate.  In the Romm case, it ruled that an individual could not be legally compelled to make use of Hebrew, but no demand should be made of the government to use Arabic, for example on street signs. In the Adalah case it ruled that local governments in which the Arab minority is more than 6% are obligated to have all street signs in Arabic, but it ruled that the government could not be prevented from marking Hebrew writing next to the Arabic.

The above is concerning the functional status of Arabic in relation Hebrew. But regarding the recognition of Arabic as an official language with an effective status, the Court’s rulings have seen almost no change throughout the years. Even Chief Justice Barak’s Supreme Court, which greatly advanced the status of Arabic in the Israeli public, refrained from basing a ruling on the claim that Arabic was an official language. One of the most telling examples is the refusal of the Supreme Court to issue a ruling in the appeal of Adalah in 2002, in which the organization sought to allow court proceedings in Arabic. (An exception to the above can be found in a ruling of Justice Durner, but she was in the minority.)

In summary, later legislation has invalidated Article 82, and policy and rulings in Israel have granted the status of official language only to Hebrew. Therefore, any legislation that would grant Arabic official language would not be maintaining an existing status quo, but would be a dramatic change with far ranging consequences

Concerning the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State for the Jewish People


Countries that have more than one official language are dual- or multi-national countries, which Israel is not. The proposed law, which includes a legal right to linguistic accessibility in Arabic and a “special status,” is far more than that which is granted to minorities in Western countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Italy, and other Western democracies.

For the full paper (in Hebrew)

Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People – legal justification

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Aviad Bakshi

The goal of this position paper is to support the proposed Basic Law, Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People, and to present the legal justifications for the enactment of this Basic Law.


While it is true that the principle of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state had been firmly anchored in Israeli law and legislation for dozens of years and that it reflects the traditional values of the Israeli state; over the past twenty years there has been a dramatic erosion in this status by Supreme Court rulings. A fundamental circumstance in Israel’s present legal reality, is the lack of a legal anchor for Israel’s crucial dimension as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This Basic Law proposal is in line with the accepted traditions of Israeli law and simultaneously fills a practical legal need caused by deviation from this tradition by the Supreme Court rulings described above.


Traditionally, the legal values of Israel rested on court decisions in a common law system. In the common law era, the Supreme Court defended the principle of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as well as the principles of the civil rights of its citizens. This harmony of of values  characterized Israel since its declaration of independence. During the 1990’s, however, the Israeli legal world underwent a constitutional revolution: the constitutional values of Israel ceased relying upon common law and were formalized in two Basic Laws passed in1992, expansively implemented by the Court. In the wake of the Knesset’s opposition to this Court-enacted constitutional revolution, the crafting of values-based Basic Laws ceased, and since 1992, no new Basic Law has been passed. Without any legislative intent, Israel passed from a legal system based on common law focused on the two characteristics mentioned above to a formal legal system which enforced only one of these two national characteristics. Without any real intent or even deliberation, the historic balance between the principles of Israel as a nation-state and of Israel as a country respecting the individual human rights of its citizens was shattered; the principle of a Jewish state now occupies an inferior position in the hierarchy of Israeli legal norms.


To document this untoward predicament, this position paper sets forth legal research into the following concrete issues defining Israel’s identity as the nation state of the Jewish People: the granting of lands and incentives for the establishment of Jewish settlements, the primacy granted in Israel to the Hebrew language, political participation of parties which reject the existence of Israel as the Jewish state, and Israeli immigration policies towards those who are not eligible for the “right of return”.


The conclusions of this legal research is crystal clear: Over the past twenty years we have witnessed significant erosion of the weight granted by the Supreme Court to the Jewish character of Israel- a dramatic abandonment of the path pursued during the first 44 years of Israel’s existence.

The need to legislate a Basic Law which will anchor the principle of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in law is thus clear. This Basic Law, together with the existing Basic Laws advancing individual human rights, will return the Israeli legal system to its common law roots consistent with the values expressed in the Israeli declaration of independence, will re-establish the healthy balance in fundamental values, and will reaffirm the principles and sentiments of the vast majority of the Israeli public for whom Israel is both the Jewish state and a democratic state.

 To the full position paper  (Hebrew)

Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People – the liberal justification

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Aviad Bakshi


There are those who argue that the idea of a Jewish nation-state contradicts the liberal values of human rights and therefore is illegitimate. Others agree, for various reasons, to accept the legitimacy of a state for the Jewish nation despite their feeling that it is a violation of the values of human rights. They seek to minimize the expression of the Jewish nation component in the State of Israel’s internal legal system.  They, therefore,

oppose a Basic Law calling for the State of Israel to be recognized as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This position paper argues the opposite.


Anchoring the notion of Israel as the Jewish nation-state in law is needed not despite- but because of Israel’s commitment to the liberal values of human rights. The point of view, which seeks to prevent people embodying their self-identification in a nation-state, manifests a lack of respect for people and is detrimental to the basic human right to autonomy, identity, and culture. It is this point of view which suppresses human rights and which is seeped in cultural imperialism.  It violates the basic liberal value of respecting each person as a whole. This position paper argues that a liberal nation-state is obligated to safeguard the human rights of minority groups and continually to strike a balance between those rights and the country’s identity as a nation-state, respecting each person’s right to self-identification within the nation-state.


We open with a survey of individualistic liberalism, which sees only the welfare and rights of individuals and refuses to recognize an individual’s right and need to belong to and identify with a group. According to this narrow view of liberalism, nationality does indeed stand in contradiction. The paper then analyzes in depth the changes which liberalism has undergone over the past thirty years, including a recognition of the right to a group culture and identity. The paper presents Michael Sandel’s critique, which states that the protection afforded human rights by individualistic liberalism is an empty defense; there is no point in discussing the right to autonomy, respect, and personal identity if we ignore the deep-seated connection most people have to group cultures and identities – including their national identities. Another criticism of individualistic liberalism surveyed in this paper is that of Alasdair MacIntyre, who posits that there are those who wish to live lives detached from group cultures and therefore object to national identities, but they make up another, particular cultural sub-group. There is no justification for positing this specific group’s values as meta-values and to impose them on other groups of individuals who do see a national identity as a central tenet of their respective personal identities. In keeping with this criticism, it is argued that individualistic liberalism is nothing but imperialism which seeks to force onto most people a culture and scale of values alien to them. This imperialism is absurdly justified by invoking people’s liberal right to autonomously shape their own identity. We further argue that revoking people’s right to nationality because of individualistic liberalism is not liberalism at all; this is oppression based on an arbitrary refusal to honor people’s right to autonomy and to a unique and authentic identity.


As a follow-up, and in the wake of what has been said by some philosophers regarding the right to culture, this position paper further argues that an acknowledgement of a right to a national culture demands a defense of the liberal nation-state as an authentic expression of this right. It is argued, for example, that there is no point in defending the Jews’ right to express their culture by declaring “Next year in Jerusalem” unless it is accompanied by the right to act to realize those deep cultural values through the existence of a Jewish nation-state.


Our conclusion is that the liberal point of view demands the defense of people’s right to self-definition and therefore demands the defense of the right of the Jewish people to a state for the Jewish nation. Consistent with the liberal axioms for our discussion, this nation-state for the Jewish nation must be a liberal nation-state with a deep commitment to the human rights of all its residents. It is thus necessary to enact legal safeguards of individual rights through Basic Laws.  And it is no less necessary to enact Basic Laws guaranteeing its identity as the Jewish nation-state.

To the full position paper 

Israel, the Jewish nation, and Judaism

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By Prof. David A. Frankel

Judaism is more than just a religion. Judaism is a way of life based on loyalty to the nation, to its values and history. To be a Jew means to belong to the Jewish people, to the Jewish nation. There is a difference between belonging to a people or nation and identification with a country. The notion of a nation is deeper than that of a country. A person may be a citizen of several countries, but he cannot be part of more than one nation.

The establishment of the State of Israel blurred the concepts and led to misunderstanding by many, as Israeli citizenship does not necessarily equate to membership in the Jewish people. At the same time, at its founding the State of Israel was declared to be the state of the Jewish people and it is primarily defined as a Jewish and democratic state. This definition is also grounded in the country’s Basic Laws. One of the results of these blurred lines is that the country’s character must embrace Judaism in its widest sense.

There are three basic principles, three fundamental characteristics to Judaism and the Jewish people: 1. Pure monotheism, 2. Historical continuity and national memory, 3. Jerusalem, and the land of Israel around it, as the central point of the nation. To strengthen the connection between the disparate portions of the Jewish people, scattered across the face of the globe with ties between them bound to weaken, our sages emphasized three distinct signs: language, the Sabbath, and mythology. The Hebrew language remained the language of prayer. The Sabbath remained the weekly day of rest, and to bolster it various prohibitions were enacted. The mythology, the Scriptural stories, became the spiritual property of every Jewish child everywhere. Thus did the Jewish people experience and emphasize their unique nature among nations.

Despite that classic approach, there have been those who sought to encourage Jews to fully integrate into their places of residence in the diaspora. Various movements and trends blurred the unique characteristics of the Jewish nation, and, in the end, led to the loss of a great deal of the nation. The establishment of the Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and the liberation of Jerusalem, led to a flourishing of nationalism amongst great swaths of the Jewish people.

And yet there are those who still seek to negate the existence of a Jewish people by aiming at significant nationalist symbols: reducing the status of the Hebrew language, abandoning the Bible, damaging the status of the Sabbath, belittling the Jewish holidays, etc. It can be feared that in light of this reality, within a generation or two the historic, cultural, spiritual, national, and even linguistic connection of residents of the State of Israel to the Jewish people will be similar to the connection between residents of modern Greece to ancient Greece or of Italians to ancient Rome.

The State of Israel is not like all other states. In order to safeguard its existence and continuity, and so to safeguard the existence and continuity of the Jewish nation, we must understand that the establishment of the state specifically in the Land of Israel was both a necessity and a result of our existence as a people. In order for the state to be Jewish, as announced in the declaration of independence, and not just a state in which Jews may live, it must steadfastly maintain the fundamentals of the nation, principles like increasing the usage of the Hebrew language, Jewish cultural and literary heritage, history, lifestyle, festivals and holidays, and the centrality of anything connected to the principles of the Jewish people. The state must acknowledge that it is the nationalist-political center of the Jewish nation.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

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