An Arab advocacy organisation on Tuesday filed a petition to Israel's supreme court aimed at striking down the Nation State law passed last month, saying it is racist and violates international law.
The law effectively relegates Arabs, who make up a fifth of Israel's population, to being second class citizens and is seen by Arab leaders and Jewish liberals as having constructed an apartheid-like regime.
The Haifa-based Adalah organisation, acting in the name of leaders of Israel's Arab minority, wrote in its petition: "There is no [other] constitution in the world today containing a clause that determines that the state belongs to one ethnic group or that a given state is exclusive to a certain ethnic group."
Adalah lawyer Suhad Bishara, who helped prepare the petition, told The National. "The articles of the Basic Law make principles of racism, segregation and domination of one group a constitutional norm which all authorities will be obliged to fulfill."
The law, passed by a 62-55 vote in the Knesset, is a Basic Law, which means it has de facto constitutional status. It says that only the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the state of Israel and delineates the flag, emblem, anthem and symbols of the state. It demotes Arabic from being an official language to one with undefined "special status." Its most controversial clause puts Jews firmly in a superior position to non-Jews, specifying that "the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage it and to promote and to consolidate its establishment." The law makes no mention of equality and democracy.
Ms Bishara said: "Imagine any European country declaring in its constitution that it is a white country and that its land allocation and planning policy should tend to whitening the geographical area. It's racist because any non-white is perceived as illegitimate and as a problem. There's no equal citizenship here. I'm not perceived as equal to any Jewish citizen. It's the same principles as South Africa's constitution of 1983."
Arab citizens of Israel are in a tenuous position legally with the passage of the Nation State Law. Their right to equality is not explicitly guaranteed in law, but rather inferred from laws such as the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ultranationalist government now believes it has offset the human dignity law, which it says triggered rulings that harmed Zionism, with the Nation State Law.
The supreme court, however, has never struck down a Basic Law. On Sunday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned the justices not to do so this time, saying it would touch off a "war" between the judiciary and the Knesset.
Mr Netanyahu defended the Nation State Law on Sunday after tens of thousands of Israel's Druze citizens packed a Tel Aviv square the previous night to protest it as discriminating against them despite their loyalty to the state and performance of military service.
"The state of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people," he said. "Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Individual rights are anchored in many laws including the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. Nobody has harmed and nobody intends to harm these individual rights but without the Nation State Law it will be impossible to ensure for future generations the future of Israel as a Jewish national state."
Netanyahu has ruled out changing the Nation State Law. Instead, he has offered Druze leaders a separate law that would advantage those minority citizens, such as the Druze, Circassians and some Bedouins who perform military service. The overwhelming majority of Israel's Arab citizens do not serve and generally look askance at the Druze for serving to enforce the occupation against Palestinians.
Netanyahu's proposal to the Druze, which does not seem to be conciliating them, would create a regime with four categories of citizens and residents in greater Israel according to the following hierarchy: 1. Jews 2. Druze 3. The majority of Arab citizens 4. Palestinians in the occupied territories with no rights at all.
Leaders of the Arab minority have called for a mass protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening. "We believe many of the supporters of our struggle for equality from within the Jewish community will join us," said Yusuf Jabareen an MP from the Joint List, the main Arab grouping in the Knesset.