Remember the boycott bill? It was not that long ago that housing was a problem
hardly anyone seemed to care about, and coalition MKs were incessantly drafting
Instead of “social justice,” pundits and op-ed
writers were talking about “democracy” and “freedom of speech,” and whether they
were compatible with the state’s Jewish identity.
It’s hard to believe
that just over a month ago, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s housing
reform was brought to the Knesset for its first reading, it was met with yawns,
even though, in an unusual move, the prime minister presented the bill to the
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) called the
housing bill, which passed a few weeks later in the shadow of tent cities around
the country, a coalition priority, because “it’s very, very important to stop
housing prices from continuing to rise.” Meanwhile, opposition leader Tzipi
Livni (Kadima) dismissed the idea, saying Netanyahu “talks about reforms only to
During the Knesset’s summer session, which ended two
weeks ago, the media, the public and, most of all, MKs were focused on other
matters, such as stopping citizens who call to boycott Israel, preventing
convicted terrorists from speaking in universities, and investigating left-wing
A study released by Mattot Arim only highlighted
the trend. The right-wing NGO praised MKs for having 105 “nationalist
achievements” this year, as opposed to only 40 in the previous study.
opposition accused “a lobby of settlers” of taking over the Knesset and
“limiting freedom of expression and political protest.” MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima)
mocked “Elkin- and Lieberman-style democracy... that will close the mouths of
people with opinions they don’t like.”
“Instead of dealing with the
housing and health crises, it’s much easier to incite everyone against the
minority,” MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said this week.
He explained that the
nationalist-bill trend was “part of an attempt to avoid real
HOWEVER, NOW that the “distractions” are gone and “social
justice” is all anyone wants to talk about, the issues of national identity
continue to bubble under the surface, with Israel Beiteinu leading the
“We’re a democratic state, and we’re not disconnected
from public opinion,” MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) said.
these economic issues certainly need immediate attention and long-term
At the same time, Miller emphasized the need to deal with the
“absurd situation” in Israel, in which the country allows for the
discouragements of core parts of the national ethos.
He explained that a
number of Israel Beiteinu bills, which were proposed during the summer session,
are being prepared for a legislative push in the next session, which is
scheduled to begin in late October.
One such bill, proposed by Israel
Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Hamed Amer, would give preference in government
hiring practices to anyone who enlisted in the IDF or did national or civilian
service, because “those who try to escape [IDF service] should not be carried on
the public’s back,” according to Miller. The bill was prepared by the Knesset
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which Rotem chairs, and passed in its
first Knesset reading. It will be brought to a final vote this
Fellow Israel Beiteinu MK Faina Kirschenbaum plans to bring a
bill establishing a parliamentary inquiry committee to probe NGOs that target
the IDF, to another vote in the fall, after it was rejected in
“There’s an absurd situation in which Israeli organizations
initiate processes abroad that lead to officials and IDF soldiers not being able
to [safely] visit other countries,” Miller said. “This needs to be
Miller, who chairs the Knesset Education Committee, is also
working on a bill requiring universities to play “Hatikva” at ceremonies. The
Ministerial Committee on Legislation postponed the vote on his “Raed Salah Bill”
– named after the leader of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch – which would
prohibit anyone convicted of assisting terrorist organizations from speaking in
Considering that Kadima vocally opposed every
bill mentioned thus far, it came as a surprise when the party’s MK Avi Dichter
proposed “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish
The bill takes a bit of Theodor Herzl, a bit of former Supreme
Court president Aharon Barak and a bit of the Balfour Declaration, giving a wide
definition of Zionism that, on the surface, would seem to be agreeable to a
broad swath of Israelis.
THE BASIC premise of “Basic Law: Israel as the
Nation-State of the Jewish People” is to give constitutional status to the
declaration that “the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish
people.” Yet Dichter’s proposal has drawn the Left’s ire, particularly because
it relegates Arabic to a “language with special status” as opposed to a
secondary official language, and because it says “Jewish law should serve as an
inspiration for legislators.”
Some have taken issue with the law’s
assertion that “the right to self-determination in the State of Israel is unique
to the Jewish People.”
In Tuesday’s emergency Knesset meeting, MK Ahmed
Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) called the bill “the most dangerous, hideous law in the history
of the Knesset,” and accused Kadima of being a racist party, because 20 members
signed in support of the proposal.
Dichter was distressed by the negative
media attention that his bill has received, explaining this week that it simply
“reinforces the existing situation.”
“We’re not changing anything,” he
said. “Hebrew is the only language required to be taught in schools – not
Arabic. I think ‘special status’ is more respectful to Arabic than ‘secondary
official language.’” He also denied any connection to the Anti-Boycott Law or
the Nakba Law, lamenting “bad timing” and saying he had been working on his bill
for over a year.
MK Yohanan Plesner, also of Kadima, voiced opposition to
Dichter’s bill, explaining it, along with the Israel Beiteinu bills, as part of
the unanswered question of the country’s national identity.
“We have to
put things in perspective.
Israel still does not have a constitution. If
we did, it would answer civil questions and determine our national identity –
the proper balance between Jewish and democratic,” he explained.
these bills had “destabilized the existing balance, by emphasizing the Jewish
side over the democratic.” The laws highlight Israel’s need for a constitution,
which would cement the state’s national identity, while protecting the rights of
the minority, according to Plesner.
Dichter says his bill is working
toward that purpose, calling it “the most Israeli introduction possible for our
“All of the Basic Laws so far put the individual at the
center,” reinforcing democratic rights, he explained. “This will be the first
Basic Law to deal with our national identity – it puts the state at the
He added that “it has nothing to do with [the UN vote in]
September, or the Boycott Bill.”
Plus, as Dichter pointed out, while it
says “Jewish” 20 times, the word “democratic” is not mentioned in the country’s
Declaration of Independence.