Israel has come under a lot of flak for recently passing a new Basic Law (the local equivalent of a constitutional law in the absence of a true constitution) that enshrines “Israel as the historic home of the Jewish people,” officially labels an undivided Jerusalem as its capital and declares Hebrew to be its only official language.
Many among the 20 percent of Israel's population who are not Jews and whose mother tongue is not Hebrew have derided the Nation-State Law as a racist piece of legislation.
They have been joined by most Jewish Israeli liberals, who say the new law is a power-play by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The outcry from abroad has been even greater.
But whether the Nation-State Law is justified or foolhardy (or both), those engaged in the argument are glossing over a very important aspect of why it was passed, and why so many Israeli Jews support it.
When the United Nations voted for the partition of this land in 1947, it envisioned separate states for Jews and Arabs. The official map accompanying the motion even called the green portion of the land the “Jewish state.”
Israel accepted the proposal, the Arabs didn't. Years later, after repeated military efforts to annihilate the Jewish state had failed, the Arabs finally agreed to the partition plan as the basis of a new peace process. Only, the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs has refused to accept the foundational condition of the partition plan–that the state neighboring theirs be recognized as a “Jewish state.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has passed its own Basic Law (already back in 2003) that clearly defines a future Palestinian state as an ethnic Arab state in which Islam is the dominant religion (meaning Sharia Law holds sway) and Arabic is the only official language. (H/T to Robert Nicholson of The Philos Project for pointing this out.)
In this light, the motivation behind Israel's Nation-State Law, which had been hotly debated for seven years before finally being passed, can be seen as reactionary as much as anything else.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process stipulates the formation of separate Arab and Jewish states. The Palestinian leadership has unilaterally declared the former, while rejecting the latter. Israel, or elements therein, felt compelled to make a similar unilateral move to plant a flag in the chief concession already granted it by the United Nations back in 1947.