July 20, 2018
News Press Release

ZOA Praises Israel for Passing Law Declaring Israel is a Jewish State

83 Countries Have Official Religions, Islam is Official Religion in 30 Countries, 136 Incorporate Religion into their Anthems, 64 Incorporate Religion into their Flags

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein and ZOA Director of Special Projects Elizabeth Berney, Esq. released the following statement:

The ZOA praises the Israeli Knesset for this week passing the Basic Law entitled “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.”  This law enshrines 2,000 years of Jewish prayers and the noble Zionist mission of reestablishing Israel as the Jewish homeland – a haven where Jews can defend themselves from centuries of horrific violent anti-Semitic attacks in European and Arab nations, and live as a free people in their own, indigenous, G-d given and UN given legally-designated land.  The law merely reflects the raison d’être of Israel.  The law states, among other things:    

“A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.

  1. 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.
  2. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”  

(“Final Text of Jewish Nation-State Law, Approved by the Knesset Early on July 19,” by Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel, July 19, 2018.)

There have already been nonsensical, frightened left-wing, even anti-Semitic complaints. ZOA is compelled to point out that 83 countries have official established or preferred religions; 136 nations incorporate a religion into their national anthems; and 64 nations incorporate religious symbols into their national flags. This is historically how numerous nations operate and identify. Yet no one complains about any of these Muslim or Christian or other religion identifying countries’ establishment laws, anthems or flags. 

Further, as distinguished Northwestern University International Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote yesterday, the Israeli law is similar to, and more liberal than that of many European constitutions.  For instance, the new Basic Law does not change the fact that Israel does not have official religions, while seven European countries have constitutionally enshrined state religions.  Professor Kontorovich added: “Perhaps the best evidence that Israel needs a constitutional affirmation of its status as the sovereign Jewish nation-state is the eagerness of so many to denounce as undemocratic measures that are considered mundane anywhere else.” (“Get Over It—Israel Is the Jewish State,” by Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2018.)

“After World War I, numerous ethnic groups achieved statehood.  It was not considered antidemocratic that the Hungarians or Poles, for example, should establish nations to embody and sustain their particular cultures. All democratic countries have minority populations. Such countries do not believe that they have to shed their national ethnic identities in order to respect the civil, property and other basic human rights of their minority citizens.”

Criticisms of the new law are wrong and misplaced:  It is deeply disappointing that, in addition to hypocritical even anti-Semitic European criticism of the new Israeli basic law, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) President Rick Jacobs issued statements misleadingly and wrongly criticizing Israel’s new law, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) wrongly criticized aspects of the new Israeli law. (See Reform and AJC Leaders Bitterly Criticize Israel’s Nation-State Bill,” by Eric Cortellessa, Times of Israel, July 19, 2018; and “US Jewish Groups Furious At Jewish Nation-State Law,” by Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2018.)  

Incredibly, URJ’s Rick Jacobs even vowed to “fight back” and wrongly accused the law of being “enormously” damaging to Israel’s “legitimacy.”

In essence, these critics are attacking the very idea of the Jewish State.  Their unfounded criticisms (and not the law) are what is illegitimate and doing damage.

Israel continues to protect minority rights:  The new law does not detract from minority citizens’ human rights and democratic liberties.  All citizens continue to enjoy longstanding protection under Israel’s Basic Law.  (See, e.g., Basic Law entitled “Human Dignity and Liberty.”)

Israel’s new and existing Basic Laws thus carry out the precepts of the Balfour Declaration, and its adoption into international law in the 1922 Mandate for Palestine, which recognize “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country,” and designate that area for the establishment “of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”     

Numerous countries have official state religions or preferred religions: Democracy is frequently compatible with having an official state religion, identity or preferred religion.  For instance, in England – a quintessential democratic country – the Church of England is the established state religion, and the monarch (now Queen Elizabeth II) is the Supreme Governor of the Church.  Other democratic states with an official, established Christian religion or church include Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, Faroe Islands, Greece, Greenland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vatican City, and Zambia.    

A Pew Research Center analysis of 199 countries found that 42% have officially endorsed faiths or preferred faiths.  43 countries have official state religions, and an additional 40 countries have “preferred” religions.  (Another 10 nations are hostile to all religion.)  

Islam is the official state religion in 27 nations and the preferred religion in another 3 nations.  (Eg. Iran is actually named The Islamic Republic of Iran). Christianity is the official state religion in 13 countries and the preferred religion in another 28 countries.  Buddhism is the state religion in 2 nations and the preferred religion in another 4 nations.  

Every nation in the Middle East other than Israel has established Islam as either the official or preferred religion.  (See Four-in-Ten Countries Have Official State Religions or Preferred Religions,” Pew Research Center, Oct. 3, 2017; “Islam is the Most Common Official Religion; Christianity Most Common Preferred Faith,” Pew Research Center, Oct. 2, 2017.)

In addition, Wikipedia lists 94 nations that incorporate Christian religion into their national anthems; 35 countries that incorporate Islam into their national anthems; and 6 countries (other than Israel) that incorporate other religions into their national anthems.   (See countries list and examples of religions national anthems at“ZOA Appalled: Tel Aviv U Humanities Faculty’s Bans Hatikva Anthem from Graduation Ceremony,” June 13, 2018.)

Further, 64 nations – one third of the world’s nations – incorporate religious symbols into their national flags.  Twenty-one (21) nations incorporate Islamic symbols (such as the Islamic crescent, or triangles representing the 5 pillars of Islam) or Islamic religious words (such as the shahada, the Islamic creed).  Christian symbols are found on 31 national flags.  Buddhist or Hindu religious symbols appear on five national flags. The lone Jewish state is the only state with a Jewish symbol on its flag.  (“64 Countries Have Religious Symbols on Their National Flags,” by Angelina E. Theodorou, Pew Research Center, Nov. 25, 2014.)

It thus a hypocritical double-standard – and antisemitic – to condemn the democratic, only Jewish state for its Jewish identity.

As former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith wrote: “most democracies . . . have laws and practices that specially recognize a particular people’s history, language, culture, religion and group symbols, even though they also have minorities from other groups. . . . Israel was founded as a national home for the Jews, recognized as a nationality and not just a religious group. . .  .  Arabs . . . would exercise national self-determination over time in Syria, Lebanon, Mesopotamia (now Iraq), Arabia and elsewhere. . . . . After World War I, numerous ethnic groups achieved statehood.  It was not considered antidemocratic that the Hungarians or Poles, for example, should establish nations to embody and sustain their particular cultures. All democratic countries have minority populations. Such countries do not believe that they have to shed their national ethnic identities in order to respect the civil, property and other basic human rights of their minority citizens.”  (“Can Israel Be Jewish and Democratic?,” by Douglas J. Faith, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 25, 2010.)

Language provision:  The critics (specifically AJC and ADL) absurdly complained because the new law does not list Arabic as an “official” language – despite the fact that the new law states that Arabic is a special status language.  Notably, Arabic is the only one of Israel’s many languages given such special status.  The new law provides:  

“A. The state’s language is Hebrew. B. The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.  C. This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

In fact, having one “official” language is an important unifying force for any nation – especially a nation as diverse as Israel is.  A unifying language is one of the antidotes to division and “apartheid,” and helps all citizens of a nation advance professionally and economically, and fully integrate themselves into the life of the nation.  

A proponent of making English the official language of the United States described the enormous, multi-billion dollar government and employment costs and social fracturing caused by the lack of an official language, and concluded: “If we are going to be a united people, people who understand each other and can work together with people from anywhere in the country, we will have to have an official national language.”  (“Why English Should be the Official Language of the United States,” by Brandon Brice, Washington Times, Dec. 31, 2014.)

Making Hebrew the official language makes eminent sense: Some 90% of Israeli Jews, and the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs, speak Hebrew fluently.  

It is notable that although Israelis speak some 35 languages (see Languages of Israel), the law continues to favor Arabic over the many other native languages spoken is Israel.

Russian (the native language of 15% of the population) is approximately as widely spoken as Arabic (the native language of 18% of the population) – and yet Russian is not an “official” language.  English is widely spoken in Israel – and yet English has never been an “official” language in Israel.   Sizable numbers of Israelis also speak Yiddish; Amharic and other Ethiopian languages; French (likely to continue increasing as Jews flee the increasing Islamist anti-Semitic attacks against Jews in France); Ladino; Spanish; German; languages of the Indian Jews (Marathi and Judeo-Malayalam); Bukhori (language of Bukharin Jews); Farsi, Kurdish (spoken by 150,000 Kurdish Jews), Hungarian, Italian, Vietnamese, and other languages.  Yet none of these languages have the special status granted to Arabic. 

Why is it that AJC only complains about Arabic not being accorded “official” status – when Arabic is accorded a higher status than Russian, Yiddish and a host of other popular languages spoken in Israel?

Numerous countries have one official language.  Moreover, in many countries, there is an official language, despite the fact that many of those countries’ citizens speak different languages.  A few examples:  In Angola, the official language of Portuguese is only spoken by 71% of the population. In Belize, the official language of English is only spoken by 62.9% of the population.  Bhutan’s two official languages are only spoken by 52% of the population.  In Bulgaria, the official language of Bulgarian is only spoken by 76.8% of the population.  In Burkino Faso, French is the official language although Sudanic languages are spoken by 90% of the population.  And so on.  (See The CIA World Factbook: Languages.)

Further, Arabic is the sole official language of Algeria; Bahrain; Egypt; Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria; Tunisia, United Arab Emirates; and Yemen (Id.) – even though other languages are spoken in quite a few of these countries.  Why does no one complain about this? 

Arabic is also widely spoken in various countries where it is not the official language, including Iran and Tanzania.  (Id.) Yet again, we hear no complaints about this.

Why is Hebrew the only official language that is objected to?   Again, this is a double-standard that smacks of anti-Semitism or some Jews being fearful of condemnation. 

Jewish Settlement provision:  The critics have also wrongly complained about a provision in the new law encouraging Jewish settlement.  The provision says:

“Jewish settlement: The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

Encouraging Jewish settlement on the historic Jewish lands, legally designated for the Jewish homeland, is the essence of Zionism and Judaism.  Indeed, Article 6 of the internationally-binding Mandate called for “close settlement by Jews, on the land.”   

Further, Professor Kontorovich explained that this provision arose “against a backdrop of land policies that discriminate against Jews. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled controversially that Arabs have a right to create residential communities in Israel that exclude Jews. A separate case denied the corresponding right to Jews. In Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority prescribes the death penalty for Arabs who sell land to Jews. The new Basic Law does not even negate either of those injustices; it merely creates a normative counterweight.”

URJ, AJC and ADL should be condemning the anti-Jewish discriminatory land policies  – including the Palestinian Authority’s death penalty for Arabs who sell land to Jews – that led to the still inadequate measures in Israel’s new basic law.  

It is deeply disturbing that URJ’s Rick Jacobs and AJC are instead condemning the most basic tenets of Judaism, the Zionist cause, and Israel’s foundational principles.