Nix 'Jewish State' bill in favor of a 'declarative vision,' Livni report says

Justice Minister Livni says a new law on a Jewish democratic state is a bad idea; Says a declarative vision could foster more unity.

November 19, 2014 10:30
2 minute read.
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People waving Israeli flags march in a pro-Israeli demonstration in support of Israel in August 2014.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday announced that a report she commissioned on Israel as a Jewish and democratic state had recommended against passing a law to that effect and in favor of a vaguer declarative vision.

The 20-page report, authored by renowned constitutional law Professor Ruth Gavison, explained that a new law would only inflame controversy among diverse sectors in the country and Jews in the Diaspora.

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In contrast, she said a new non-binding vision or re-affirming the vision of Israel’s Declaration of Independence could focus on aspects of being Israeli which unify the diverse Jewish and non-Jewish sectors.

The report was published at a time when there has been fiery debate between Livni’s party, Yesh Atid, and various secular opposition parties on one side and Bayit Yehudi, the Likud, and various right-wing and religious parties on the other over a bill on the issue.

Those who favor it perceive the bill as strengthening the state’s watered-down Jewish character, while opponents say it would undermine Israel’s democracy.

Livni’s press release referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as supporting her initiative, but when she previously made similar claims, his office denied supporting it and Netanyahu appears to support a bill that is closer to what other Likud members have sought.

Gavison’s vision leaned more toward the democratic side, as she divided the core, undisputed, guiding principles as “Judaism, democracy, and human rights.”

Such a formulation balances the Jewish aspects of the state with democracy, and Livni herself has often stated that the Jewish aspects must be deferred if they conflict with democracy.

Gavison was appointed by Livni in August 2013 to draft a constitutional provision defining what it means for Israel to be a “Jewish and democratic state.” Livni said at the time that this was the “first time” that a comprehensive effort on this issue was being undertaken, implying that prior efforts had targeted narrower aspects of the issue.

She had added that this definition is necessary in light of “the substantive societal and legal dispute, and the many proposed laws in which every part of the political map is trying to force its world view” on the rest of the state.

Livni said she had told Gavison that “the time has arrived to draft a constitutional framework that deals with the character of the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic, and anchors the components of the identity in a balanced way, integrating these values – the Jewish and the democratic.”

Gavison had said in response, “I will act with the purpose of supporting the desire to advance and to constitutionally anchor the identity of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, according to the attitude specified in the Declaration of Independence.”

In proposing a non-binding vision as opposed to a law, Livni and Gavison appeared to be acknowledging that any law passed was not likely to be along the lines they would support.

Gavison also said if a new law were going to be passed against her recommendation, it should shy away from setting inflexible answers to areas in dispute and be sensitive to minority rights.

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