Coalition parties submit opposing bills defining Israel as Jewish State

Talks between Yesh Atid, Likud Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi break down; Yesh Atid submits bill while Levin, Shaked work on own bill.

June 25, 2013 21:13
3 minute read.
Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon

ruth calderon 521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Coalition parties submitted two separate bills seeking to define Israel’s Jewish nature Tuesday, after talks between Yesh Atid, Likud Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi broke down.

On Tuesday morning, MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) submitted “Basic Law: Independence Scroll,” while coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked and Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov submitted “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” hours later.

Calderon, Levin and Shaked worked together for the last month in hopes of drafting an agreed-upon version of “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Shaked and Calderon began talks several weeks earlier, and Levin joined in after proposing a similar bill.

The bills are meant to anchor in legislation the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

There are several versions of the bill, beginning with one proposed by former Kadima MK Avi Dichter in the last Knesset. Each defines Israel differently.

The Likud Beytenu-Bayit Yehudi legislation seeks to balance the values of Judaism and democracy as expressed in the Independence Scroll, while the Yesh Atid bill turns the scroll itself into a Basic Law.

“We tried to reach broad agreements and made a major effort to reach an agreed-upon draft,” Levin said. “Unfortunately, we could not reach an unequivocal agreement on the matter, but the current [Likud Beytenu-Bayit Yehudi] draft certainly reflects a very wide Israeli consensus, and is important to the character of the State of Israel, which is influenced by this dialogue.”

Levin, Shaked and Ilatov’s bill also mentions the Jewish People’s historic right to the Land of Israel, stating that the State of Israel cannot exist anywhere but the Land of Israel.

Another article in the Likud Beytenu-Bayit Yehudi bill says all citizens have equal civil rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

The bill also includes an article giving it equal legal standing to Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.

“Elements in and out of the Knesset are trying to harm the Jewish character of the state in recent years, and want to turn it into a ‘state of all its citizens,’” Shaked stated. “The State of Israel was founded as the Jewish State, and it must remain that way. We must stop the continuing erosion of the Jewish foundations of the state.”

Calderon’s version of the bill recognizes the Independence Scroll as the founding document of the State of Israel and a basis for legal dispute and matters of identity.

“As long as we don’t have a constitution,” Calderon wrote in the bill’s explanatory section, “the Independence Scroll is a basic, recognized legal document with important principles of the country’s identity.”

The Yesh Atid MK added that the courts have used the document and its principles for decades.

The bill is meant to declare Israel as a Jewish State, but Calderon emphasized that she means Judaism as a nation and culture, not a religion.

At the same time, the legislation says Israel commits to protect human rights of all its citizens and residents, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender.

“The desire to have a state with Jewish character while maintaining equal rights is clearly expressed in the Independence Scroll,” Calderon explained. “The scroll is a balanced, Jewish and democratic document based on principles of justice and equality that are no less relevant today than at the time it was written.”

Both bills removed a controversial article from Dichter’s version, declaring Hebrew alone – and not Arabic – the official language of Israel.

None of the involved parties would disclose what led talks to break down this week.

However, last month, Calderon wrote angry Facebook posts denying claims by Ha’aretz that she supports the Basic Law requiring the courts to put Israel’s Jewish identity before its democratic values.

“The law that I am promoting, for a Jewish and democratic state, is meant to fix the dangers of Dichter’s bill and doesn’t even hint at making democracy subordinate to Jewish identity,” she wrote.

Days earlier, Levin told The Jerusalem Post: “This is a Jewish state that’s a democracy, not a democracy with some Jewish elements. We need to strengthen these principles, and give them legal priority.”

Levin explained that legal precedent gives equality under law priority over “Judaizing the land,” as he called it, but his bill would ensure that the Jewish nature of the Land of Israel comes first.

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