Israel already has Basic Laws that give adequate expression to the country’s democratic nature, and now needs one that articulates its Jewish character, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday, explaining his decision to promote a Basic Law defining Israel as a Jewish state.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the law he will promote will define the national rights of the Jewish people to the State of Israel, and that it will do so “without infringing on the individual rights of any Israeli citizen.”
Netanyahu said this law would reinforce the status of the Law of Return as a Basic Law, and anchor into a Basic Law the status of national symbols such as the flag, the national anthem, the status of Hebrew, “and other components of our national identity.” Netanyahu said these elements of Israel’s national identity are under “constant and continuous attack” from abroad as well as from home.
The State of Israel’s existence, he said, flows from it being the “national home of the Jewish people” and the deep link between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.
“There are, of course, those who do not want Israel to be defined as the nation state of the Jewish people,” he said. “They want a national home for the Palestinians to be established alongside us, and that Israel will gradually turn into a binational, Arab-Israeli state, inside shrunken borders.”
But, Netanyahu said, it is impossible to hold the “national stick” at both ends.
“They cannot say they want to separate from the Palestinians in order to prevent a binational state, something which has a certain logic, and on the other hand sanctify a binational, Israeli-Arab state within the permanent borders of the State of Israel,” he asserted.
While Netanyahu said there is full civil equality in Israel, it is “the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people.” The law he will promote, he said, will anchor that idea into a Basic Law.
Netanyahu said that the wording of the law will be formulated in consultation with all the coalition partners, so that “it preserves the values of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”
The head of one of those coalition partners, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), said in an Israel Radio interview that she is adamantly opposed to the law currently being discussed, and to “any law that gives superiority” to the Jewish nature of the state over the country’s democratic values.
Livni said she has long been in favor of anchoring into law the definition of Israel as a Jewish democratic state – “the national home of the Jewish people and a democratic state.” She said the essence of Zionism is those two values working together: “Every citizen equal in a state that gives expression to the self-determination of the Jewish people.”
Livni made clear she would support legislation only where the country’s “Jewish” and “democratic” components will have the same weight, “not more Jewish than democratic, nor more democratic than Jewish.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, meanwhile, came out in favor of the law. He said that the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict is the Arab opposition to the existence of a Jewish nation state.
The Arabs, he said, want an Arab-Palestinian state, free of Jews in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and another state alongside it that will be “something mixed, not a Jewish nation state.”
“To my regret, some among us are confused and ask why not establish a ‘state for all its citizens,’ or a binational sate. I think the law is important to remind us what is the essence of the Jewish national home,” he said.
This definition does not mean, Ya’alon made clear, that non-Jewish minorities will live in the country without the same rights as Jews.
“I do not think there is another state in the region where the Arabs enjoy the degree of human rights that they enjoy in Israel,” he said.