The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is to vote on yet another version of the Jewish State bill on Sunday.
There have been several proposals to anchor Israel’s status as the Jewish state in law in recent years, but MK Avi Dichter (Likud) wrote the original one in 2011, and revived it for the 20th Knesset with support from lawmakers in his party, as well as from Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, and Yisrael Beytenu MKs.
Dichter said a Jewish State bill is especially important in light of the current wave of terrorism, because “the Palestinians no longer hide their goal to erase the nation-state of the Jewish people. The events of recent months proved to anyone who still needed proof that this is a battle for the country’s image and national identity.
“We hear in demonstrations and interviews that Palestinian leaders talk about eliminating the Jewish nation-state and demand to get all the land, from Metula to Tel Aviv to Beersheba to Eilat,” he added.
“Israel has 11 Basic Laws, and none of them deals with the country’s identity or national definition,” Dichter explained.
“This bill is meant to protect Israel’s status as the nationstate of the Jewish people, in that it anchors the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in a Basic Law.”
The bill states that “the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it realizes its aspirations for self-determination according to its cultural and historic traditions. The realization of national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
The proposal mentions that Israel is Jewish and democratic, that the national anthem is “Hatikva,” and describes the national symbol and flag.
It also mentions the Law of Return and calls for the government to work to strengthen Israel-Diaspora ties.
Dichter said he changed his original bill to have more consideration of minority rights, including freedom of worship and protection of holy sites of all religions. It states that every resident of Israel, without difference of religion or nationality, has the right to maintain its culture, heritage, language and identity, and that communities of the same religion or nationality have the right to found their own “community settlements.” This is not a reference to the West Bank, rather to any small, self-selecting towns.
However, Dichter left in a controversial element of his original bill, which states that Hebrew is Israel’s official language and Arabic has a special status, requiring all government services to be available in Arabic.
While many protested in the past that this is a demotion of status for Arabic, there currently is no law declaring official languages in Israel. There is a British Mandatory order declaring both Arabic and Hebrew as official languages, and such orders remain in place until they are replaced with an Israeli law. However, Israeli laws regard Arabic differently in different situations; sometimes the government is required to provide services in Arabic, and sometimes it is not, depending on the specific law in question.
The latest permutation of the proposed “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” is unlikely to make any headway, as all coalition parties have veto power over Basic Laws, and Shas and UTJ oppose new Basic Laws, on principle.
The government formed a committee to work on a Jewish State bill that all coalition parties would agree on, but as it has yet to produce any results, Dichter decided to push his version.
“The State of Israel, which demands that its adversaries to recognize it as the state of the Jewish people and asks its supporters in the world to back this demand, must be able to declare in legislation that it proudly wears its identity,” he said.
Earlier this year, MK Bennie Begin (Likud) proposed a barebones version of the Jewish State bill, which stated that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, based on the foundations of liberty, justice, and peace in light of the vision of the prophets of Israel and upholds equal rights for all its citizens.”
In addition, the proposal says Israel is a democracy.
The final two articles of the bill say that the national anthem, flag, and symbol of Israel will be established in laws – as they already are – and that it can only be changed by a new Basic Law voted in by at least 80 MKs.
The legislation’s explanatory portion says that it is meant “to anchor in a Basic Law, which has rigidity, the essence of the State of Israel and its main symbols” and that the text is based on the Declaration of Independence.
On Thursday, Israel Democracy Institute’s Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and Dr. Amir Fuchs said Jewish State bills are “meant to establish the identity of the state without any balance between it being a nation-state and a democratic state, thus pushing the democratic foundations of the state from the center to the margins. It completely changes the constitutional order in the State of Israel since it was founded.”
The IDI researchers said the bill will harm Israel’s image in the world as a Western democracy, and they called it “completely pointless,” in that it won’t convince anyone who doesn’t think the Jewish people deserves its own state to change his or her mind.
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