(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Legislation declaring that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset, 48-41, on Wednesday.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud), who proposed the bill, defended it from detractors who argued it discriminates against the Arab minority.
“Israel is the state of all its individual citizens. It isn’t and won’t be the nation-state of any minority living in it... That is a right this bill gives to the Jewish people alone,” Dichter said, adding in Arabic: “Israel, the nationstate of the Jewish people.”
The purpose of the initiative, he explained, is to defend Israel’s status as the Jewish state and to legislate its values as Jewish and democratic in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
“Seventy-five years ago, when the murder of Jews burned into a Holocaust, in which the Nazis wanted to destroy the Jewish people just because they were Jewish, our hope for a Jewish nation-state became a commandment to those who survived and moved to Israel. That hope pushed the Jews who lived in Arab and Muslim countries to move in droves to Israel... and not be persecuted there because of their Judaism,” Dichter added.
Dichter first proposed the bill in 2011, and several versions of it have been proposed by many other MKs since then.
The latest iteration slightly changes one of its more controversial points.
The first Dichter bill said Hebrew would be the official language and Arabic would have a “special status.”
This one says Hebrew is the language of the state but all government materials must be available in Arabic.
Currently, there is no law that says Israel has an official language at all, but Hebrew is the de facto official language, and there are some laws requiring some public services, such as road signs and food labels, to be available in Arabic.
In presenting his bill to the plenum, Dichter pointed to the article that allows all communities in Israel to preserve their culture, heritage, language and identity, have days off for their holidays and build their own, separate towns.
Dichter added that some lawmakers – apparently referring to a recent tweet by MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) – say that after a Palestinian state is formed, they will still fight for Israel not to be the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“I don’t know if there will be a Palestinian state, but I am certain that the State of Israel will be defined in a Basic Law as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It was so since its founding... and will continue to be under this law,” Dichter concluded.
Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov, a cosponsor of the legislation, said that it is “the best answer to all those delusional organizations that try to rewrite history and sow doubt on our historic right to our land and our eternal capital Jerusalem.”
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh came out against the bill, saying that “no apartheid law, racist and ultra-nationalist as it can be, will erase the fact that two nations live here.
“This extreme-right-wing government is trying to light a fire of nationalist hatred here, but I still believe that there is a majority here that wants to live in peace, equality and democracy, and that majority must get up now to fight determinedly against this dangerous government,” Odeh added.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said this government has an insatiable desire to pit Israelis against one another.
This bill, she said, “has no purpose other than to brutally humiliate the Arab population and create a hierarchy between citizens.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), speaking to a conference at the European Parliament, said the bill proves that Jews have more rights than Arabs in Israel. He called for the EU to “stop the fascist deterioration of Israel led by Netanyahu.”
In accordance with Dichter’s agreement with the cabinet, the bill will not move forward for two more months, at which point a government proposal will be submitted, and the two will be merged.