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Jewish? Democratic? Israel’s nation-state law raises questions over the country’s purpose

(JTA) – On July 19, Israel’s right-wing coalition government passed, by a narrow 62-55 margin, its controversial nation-state law, which declared Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” Scores of liberal critics denounced the measure as an unnecessary and racist provocation, while defenders called it a statement of the obvious.

Akin to a constitutional amendment, the “basic law” declares – much like the country’s Declaration of Independence – that Israel is “the home of the Jewish people.” Unlike the declaration, however, it asserts that Jerusalem is its capital, that Hebrew is its only official language and that national self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people.”
As CNN noted, “Though the law is fraught with controversy and highly symbolic, much of it has little practical impact.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the passage of the law “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel,” while Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Knesset member, denounced it as “the end of democracy” and “the official beginning of fascism and apartheid.”
Reactions to the law reflect the wide divides within Israeli society itself and among observers abroad. Here’s a sampling:
Do Arab citizens have a place in Israel?
The bill “failed to grapple with Palestinians citizens’ insistence that they have a right to live in Israel with full and equal rights, and that they will not give up their Palestinian national identity to do so,” Maha Nassar, an associate professor at Arizona University, said in the Forward. “It’s time that we have a serious conversation about whether it was ever really possible to have a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ that took seriously Palestinians’ national identity and ties to their land.”
Noah Kulwin, senior editor of the left-wing Jewish Currents magazine, said the bill codifies discrimination against Arabs, comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa and noting that the country is “finding common cause with the European far right.”
Stating the obvious
David Hazony, founding editor of The Tower magazine, says the critics are distorting what the bill actually states.
“Building a Jewish homeland – through sovereignty, through culture, and through settlement – has always been the core purpose of the country,” Hazony wrote in the Forward. “The bottom line is that Israel is the Jewish State, and this law tells us what that means, just as other Basic Laws tell us what goes into its democratic foundations.”
Avi Dichter, the Likud party Knesset member who sponsored the bill, suggested it was meant as a response to Arabs – both Israeli citizens and living in the West Bank – who believe that Israel would one day become a binational state of all its people.
“We are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizens,” he said.
In remarks to the Knesset, Dichter responded to members of the Joint List, the Arab Israeli bloc in the parliament.
“When I listened attentively to the Joint List MKs, it was impossible to miss their clear words: ‘We, the Arabs, will win, we are in our homeland, we were here before you and we’ll be here after you.’ This Basic Law is the clear-cut answer to those who think that and it is clear: You were not here before us and you will not be here after us,” he said.
Jewish and democratic? Jewish or democratic?
The arguments on both sides get at an implicit tension that has hounded Israel since its founding in 1948: The Jewish state, founded as such, wants to privilege and shelter Jews and explicitly be a homeland for the Jewish people while simultaneously maintaining a democracy that supports all of its citizens – non-Jews included. Israel aimed to tolerate its minorities in a way the world, including Europe and the Middle East, had not previously tolerated Jews.
The tensions are seen in the Declaration of Independence.
Israel’s foundational text is fiercely ethnonationalistic, saying that the recognition of Israel by the United Nations General Assembly “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.”
At the same time, the declaration ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Riding a wave of ethnic nationalism
Max Fisher of The New York Times insists that the bill puts Israel firmly on the nationalist side of the equation, comparing countries like Hungary that “have overtly embraced an old-style national identity, with leaders championing the ethnic origins of the state, warning darkly of foreigners and curtailing basic rights.”
Fisher also cites polling in Israel that suggests Jewish identity is winning out over democracy.
“Those who say Israel should be Jewish first overwhelmingly belong to the political right, which pushed through this week’s national self-determination law,” he wrote. “But even those who say democracy should prevail express support for some caveats. In 2014, most Jews said that ‘crucial national decisions’ – like, say, self-determination – should be left to the Jewish majority.”
Words have meaning
Israel still remains a democracy, with Freedom House deeming the Jewish state a fundamentally free “multiparty democracy with strong and independent institutions that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population,” referencing political moves against minorities. There is a large Arab bloc in the Knesset, and a robust NGO culture of Jews and Arabs that promotes a “shared society” for all Israelis.
And the nation-state bill won’t change that in a single stroke. Still, “the law could eventually have far-reaching implications for Jewish-Arab relations within Israel and for Israeli-Palestinian relations,” wrote Dov Waxman, professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northwestern University.
Gila Gamliel, Israel’s minister for social equality, said July 23 on Israeli TV that the nation-state law will act as a counterweight to a previous Basic Law that enshrines human rights, freedom and dignity. That law, Gamliel said, ensures Israel’s democratic character and this law will place the state’s Jewish character on the same level.
As an example, Gamliel suggested that the nation-state law could give greater legal force to Israeli government efforts to deport African asylum seekers from Israel, presumably in order to safeguard Israel’s Jewish character. Previous laws targeting asylum seekers have been struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court on the basis of the Human Freedom and Dignity Law.
“The Human Freedom and Dignity Law in the State of Israel stands alongside the nation-state law, intelligently and correctly,” Gamliel said. “In that context, one of those things won’t come at the expense of the other. The nation-state law is not meant to hurt any citizen of the State of Israel.”
But Waxman wrote that the law contains no “recognition of the presence of a Palestinian-Arab minority in Israel.”
“On the contrary, the new law implicitly denies their very existence as an indigenous national minority that also has a legitimate claim to national self-determination, or at least collective rights. In doing so, the nation-state law will only anger, and further alienate, Israel’s Arab citizens. The message the law sends to them is unequivocal: This state is not yours and this land does not belong to you.”
Amir Fuchs, an expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, told The New York Times that even if the law is only declarative and won’t change anything in the near future, “I am 100 percent sure it will worsen the feeling of non-Jews and especially the Arab minority in Israel.”
Lucy Aharish, an Arab-Israeli newscaster who b
roadcasts in Hebrew, offered a fiery monologue against the law on Monday, July 23.
“I feel like the state has been taken from me,” she said. “They’re taking the state and excluding me from the community of Israelis that you so want me to belong to. And it hurts me. It hurts me because you’ve excluded me. You’ve excluded me and 20 percent of the population.”

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New website for Israelis interested in moving to Canada

By BERNIE BELLAN (May 21, 2024) A new website, titled “Orvrim to Canada” ( has been receiving hundreds of thousands of visits, according to Michal Harel, operator of the website.
In an email sent to Michal explained the reasons for her having started the website:
“In response to the October 7th events, a group of friends and I, all Israeli-Canadian immigrants, came together to launch a new website supporting Israelis relocating to Canada. “Our website,, offers a comprehensive platform featuring:

  • Step-by-step guides for starting the immigration process
  • Settlement support and guidance
  • Community connections and networking opportunities
  • Business relocation assistance and expert advice
  • Personal blog sharing immigrants’ experiences and insights

“With over 200,000 visitors and media coverage from prominent Israeli TV channels and newspapers, our website has already made a significant impact in many lives.”
A quick look at the website shows that it contains a wealth of information, almost all in Hebrew, but with an English version that gives an overview of what the website is all about.
The English version also contains a link to a Jerusalem Post story, published this past February, titled “Tired of war? Canada grants multi-year visas to Israelis” ( That story not only explains the requirements involved for anyone interested in moving to Canada from Israel, it gives a detailed breakdown of the costs one should expect to encounter.

(Updated May 28)

We contacted Ms. Harel to ask whether she’s aware whether there has been an increase in the number of Israelis deciding to emigrate from Israel since October 7. (We want to make clear that we’re not advocating for Israelis to emigrate; we’re simply wanting to learn more about emigration figures – and whether there has been a change in the number of Israelis wanting to leave the country.)
Ms. Harel referred us to a website titled “Globes”:
The website is in Hebrew, but we were able to translate it into English. There is a graph on the website showing both numbers of immigrants to Israel and emigrants.
The graph shows a fairly steady rate of emigration from 2015-2022, hovering in the 40,000 range, then in 2023 there’s a sudden increase in the number of emigrants to 60,000.
According to the website, the increase in emigrants is due more to a change in the methodology that Israel has been using to count immigrants and emigrants than it is to any sudden upsurge in emigration. (Apparently individuals who had formerly been living in Israel but who may have returned to Israel just once a year were being counted as having immigrated back to Israel. Now that they are no longer being counted as immigrants and instead are being treated as emigrants, the numbers have shifted radically.)
Yet, the website adds this warning: “The figures do not take into account the effects of the war, since it is still not possible to identify those who chose to emigrate following it. It is also difficult to estimate what Yalad Yom will produce – on the one hand, anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews and Israelis around the world reminds everyone where the Jewish home is. On the other hand, the bitter truth we discovered in October is that it was precisely in Israel, the safe fortress of the Jewish people, that a massacre took place reminding us of the horrors of the Holocaust. And if that’s not enough, the explosive social atmosphere and the difference in the state budget deficit, which will inevitably lead to a heavy burden of taxes and a reduction in public services, may convince Zionist Israelis that they don’t belong here.”
Thus, as much as many of us would be disappointed to learn that there is now an upsurge in Israelis wanting to move out of the country, once reliable figures begin to be produced for 2024, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that is the case – which helps to explain the tremendous popularity of Ms. Harel’s website.

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Message from a Palestinian in Gaza to protesters: “You’re hurting the Palestinian cause”

Protesters at McGill University

A very brave Palestinian who was willing to put his name to paper and write an article for Newsweek Magazine has exposed the utter hypocrisy of all those students – and others, who have been setting up encampments across the U.S. – and now Canada, too.

You can read the article at

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The Most Expensive Israeli Soccer Transfers

Eran Zahavi

Even if Israel isn’t known as a world soccer power, it has produced plenty of talented players who have made a living in top European leagues. On more than one occasion, an Israeli international has commanded a rather large transfer fee. But who are the most expensive players in Israel’s history? The answer could be a little surprising. We took a look back to find the most expensive Israeli soccer transfers of all time.

Tai Baribo

In 2023, Baribo made the move to MLS, signing with the Philadelphia Union. The reported fee was around $1.5 million, which is one of the highest transfer fees the Union has ever paid for a player.

Omer Atzili

Throughout his career, Atzili has played for a variety of clubs, including stops in Spain and Greece. In 2023, he joined Al Ain in the UAE for a transfer fee of $2.1 million.

Maor Buzaglo

Now retired, Buzaglo was briefly the holder of the richest transfer deal for an Israeli player. After a couple of successful seasons on loan, Maccabi Tel Aviv paid $2.7 million to rival Maccabi Haifa for Buzaglo in 2008.

Dia Saba

Saba made history in 2020 when he joined Al-Nasr, making him the first Israeli player to play for a club in the UAE. At the time, it was a big deal for relations between the two countries. Al-Nasr also paid an impressive $2.9 million transfer fee for the midfielder.

Tal Ben Haim

On multiple occasions, Ben Haim has been sold for more than $1 million. First, there was his move from Hapoel Tel Aviv to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2023 for close to $1.2 million. A few years later, Sparta Prague came calling for him, spending $3.1 million as a transfer fee for the winger.

Itay Shechter

During the prime of his career, Shechter was the type of player who warranted a seven-figure transfer fee. German club Kaiserslautern paid a little over $2.6 million in 2011 to bring Shechter to the Bundesliga from Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Daniel Peretz

When Peretz was sold to Bayern Munich, it wasn’t the most expensive deal involving an Israeli player, although it was arguably the most important. He became the first Israeli Jew to play at Bayern, which is one of the biggest clubs in the world. The transfer fee for Peretz paid by Bayern Munich to Maccabi Tel Aviv was around $5.4 million.

Oscar Gloukh

Gloukh is one of the best young Israeli players right now. He already has three international goals in a dozen appearances to his name. Somehow, Gloukh is already one of the most expensive players in Israel’s history. After coming up with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he moved to Austrian giant Red Bull Salzburg in 2023 for a transfer fee of close to $7.5 million. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him top that number one day.

Liel Abada

Abada has been a part of two huge transfer deals in his young career. In 2021, Scottish club Celtic paid $4.8 million to acquire him from Maccabi Petah Tikva. However, that number was topped in 2024 when Charlotte FC of MLS paid a fee of $8 million for Abada.

With Charlotte FC, Abada competes in North America’s top league, facing teams from both Mexico and Canada. Throughout North America, sports betting has taken off in recent years. That includes betting in Canada, where there is a large collection of trusted sports betting platforms.

Eran Zahavi

To date, Zahavi holds the record for the most expensive transfer fee paid for an Israeli player. It’s fitting for Israel’s former captain and all-time leading scorer. In 2016, Chinese club Guangzhou City paid $12.5 million to get Zahavi from Maccabi Tel Aviv. That record was nearly broken later that year when another Chinese club offered $20 million for Zahavi, who turned it down and stayed with Guangzhou City.

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