In a bid to thwart a draft bill defining Israel as the nation-state of the
Jewish people, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will begin polling Diaspora Jews for
their views on Israel’s character.
Livni sees Diaspora Jewry, whose
conceptions of the state potentially differ significantly from those of their
their coreligionists in Israel, as a counterbalance to those seeking to pin down
Israel’s character once and for all.
At issue is the so-called Jewish
State Law being pushed by the Likud-Beiteinu and Bayit Yehudi parties aimed at
resolving the tension between the Jewish and democratic aspects of the state by
defining Israel as primarily of Jewish character.
Israel is defined as a
“Jewish and democratic state” in two separate Basic Laws but the exact balance
between the two sometimes conflicting ideals has never been settled
The Likud-Beiteinu-Bayit Yehudi bill is similar to, though
less sweeping than, a bill sponsored by Kadima MK Avi Dichter during the 16th
In his bill, the former ISS Director defined Israel as
“the homeland of the Jewish people in which the Jewish people fulfill their
ambition to self-determination according to their cultural and historical
The right to national self-determination in Israel would be
limited to the Jewish people, according to Dichter’s bill, ending the possibly
of Israel ever peacefully and democratically becoming a binational
Livni, who expressed fierce opposition to the bill in August,
appointed Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison to compose “a
constitutional arrangement dealing with the State of Israel’s Jewish and
democratic character” as a counterbalance to the various proposals under
consideration in the legislature.
The Gavison bill would anchor the
elements of the State of Israel’s identity “in a way that balances and
integrates these values” of democracy and Judaism, According to
Gavison has previously expressed her opposition to Jewish
immigration from poorer nations, Haaretz reported.
As part of her
mandate, Gavison turned to the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute to
engage Diaspora Jews in what the think tank is calling an “unprecedented process
to impact Israel’s character.”
The JPPI is currently seeking to determine
worldwide Jewish opinion on the issues of religion and state being debated in
Israel and, Gavison wrote in a letter to JPPI, to determine “the appropriate way
to give Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state additional
“The meaning of Israel’s Jewishness and its
attitude toward democracy and human rights are important to all Jews,” Gavison
JPPI announced in a statement that it had sent a letter to hundreds
of Jewish communities and organizations calling on them to call gatherings to
discuss the issue of Israel’s core identity leading up to the group’s next
annual conference in North America.
“Integrating the views of Diaspora
Jews on the matter of the character of the Jewish state provides an historic
opportunity to deepen the dialogue between the various parts of the Jewish
people and to better define the ties between them,” the JPPI said.
on religion and state diverge in many ways between those living in Israel and
those in North America, where the bulk of Diaspora Jewry
Americans are used to living in a state with clear boundaries
between religion, ethnicity and national identity while Israel is a classical
ethnic nation state with a zeitgeist centered around a distinct group
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reportedly furious with
Livni’s partnership with Gavison.
A source close to the premier told
Haaretz in August that “Netanyahu did not welcome or support the Gavison