Top Catholic prelates in Israel are asking the government to repeal the recent Nation State Law, which they say paves a path for discrimination against non-Jewish citizens.
“Although the law changes very little in practice, it does provide a constitutional and legal basis for discrimination among Israel’s citizens, clearly laying out the principles according to which Jewish citizens are to be privileged over and above other citizens,” the Catholic leaders said in their statement, dated Oct. 31.
“We, as the religious leaders of the Catholic Churches, call on the authorities to rescind this basic law and assure one and all that the state of Israel seeks to promote and protect the welfare and the safety of all its citizens.”
The Nation State Law’s provisions, which have the weight of a constitutional amendment, define Israel as the “historic homeland of the Jewish people” who have “a singular right to national self-determination within it.”
The passage of the law by a 62-55 vote July 19 with the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition drew widespread international criticism, including from influential groups like the American Jewish Committee.
Following the passage of the law, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem voiced concern that it had downgraded Arabic from an official language to a language with a “special status.” It also objected to the law’s “commitment to work on the development of Jewish settlement in the land, with no mention of the development of the country for the rest of its inhabitants.”
The Oct. 31 joint statement was signed by more than two dozen Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land, representing Roman, Syrian, and Armenian Catholic, as well as Greek Melkite churches. Signatories included Archbishop Georges Bacouni of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Israel, Maronite Archbishop Moussa El-Hage of Haifa, and Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
The bishops warned of the focus on Jewish identity at the expense of equality and democracy.
They particularly criticized a clause in the law that promotes “the development of Jewish settlement as a national value,” saying that by doing so, “the law promotes an inherent discriminatory vision.”
The law ignores the Palestinian Arabs living in the region, as well as the Christian, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i communities – all of whom should be treated as equal citizens, the bishops said. They added that the law violates international law standards.
“As Israelis and as Palestinian Arabs, we seek to be part of a state that promotes justice and peace, security and prosperity for all its citizens,” they emphasized.