Controversial “Jewish State” Bill Passes Cabinet Vote

“And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him: ‘Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it.’” (Genesis 13:14-17)

After being shut down in ministerial committee last week, a controversial bill designed to enshrine Israel’s Jewish character into law passed an important cabinet vote on Sunday. The bill, which would codify the identity of Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people, will be brought before the Knesset on Wednesday for a preliminary vote.

The bill, known as Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, has thus far been presented in various incarnations. Sunday’s decision was actually an agreement on 14 guiding principles which would determine the character of the final version of the law, reported Ynetnews. Two different versions were presented Sunday, that of MK Ze’ev Elkin, which was dismissed last Sunday, and that of MKs Yariv Levin and Ayelet Shaked, which first surfaced in May. A third version, outlined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was not presented, as it has not been fully drafted yet. The consensus is that the final draft of the Basic Law will be a softening of features from all three drafts.

The vote was 14-6 in favor of the Basic Law, with ministers from Yesh Atid and Hatnua voting against. According to the cabinet decision, the final bill seeks to “define the identity of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and to anchor the values of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles of the Declaration of the Independence,” reports The Times of Israel. Elkin’s current draft emphasizes Israel’s Jewish nature at the expense of democracy.

The vote resulted in a great deal of fighting, according to Israel National News. Netanyahu threw the blame of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was responsible for stopping the debate on the issue last week. “If Livni had acted differently, we would not have this situation today,” Netanyahu stated. In addition to ending the ministerial committee meeting without discussing the bill, Livni also committed to drafting her own version of the law back in June, but has yet to convene the committee to do so.

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Some object outright to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, fearing it will erode the country’s democratic principles. MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, charged, “The nationality law being presented to the government is a bad law that was only drafted for the sake of Likud primaries. This is a law that [David] Ben-Gurion, [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky and [Menachem] Begin would oppose.”

He added, “This morning I spoke with the family of Zidan Saif, [the Druze policeman] who was killed protecting Jewish worshipers during the terror attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem. What can we say to this family? That he is a second-class citizen?”

Others took issue with the bill’s timing. “This is not the time,” claimed Science Minister Yaakov Perry to Netanyahu. “I know you and know that you know how to be responsible. This proposal would harm the fabric of [Israeli-Palestinian] relations.”

But Netanyahu disagreed. Now more than ever, this bill is necessary. “It cannot be that Arabs can live in all communities and Jews cannot live in Arab communities,” he stated. “What is evolving here is a state within a state.”

At the outset of the meeting, Netanyahu stipulated, Israel “has equal individual rights for every citizen and we insist on this. But only the Jewish people have national rights: a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to the country, and other national symbols. These are granted only to our people, in its one and only state.”

In a statement issued by his office, the Prime Minister expressed, “There are those who want the democratic (element) to take precedence over the Jewish, and there are those that want the Jewish (element) to take precedence over the democratic. And the principle of the law that we are proposing here today — both of these values are equal and we must consider them equally.”