ANALYSIS: Nation-State Law - why now?

Elections could jeopardize PM passing Ben-Gurion in duration of time spent while in office.

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July 31, 2018 02:11
2 minute read.

Knesset passes controversial Jewish nation-state bill into law, July 19, 2018 (Reuters)

Knesset passes controversial Jewish nation-state bill into law, July 19, 2018 (Reuters)

 
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After 70 years with no law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, pundits around the world have pondered why it was so urgent for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pass such a law now.

Among the reasons that have been given is that it had to be passed before the Knesset left for its summer recess on July 19, because early elections might be initiated immediately when the Knesset returns on October 14.

Passing the law gave Netanyahu and his Likud Party a legislative accomplishment to boast about in the next campaign and an excuse to flaunt their patriotism. What better banner for Netanyahu to run for re-election with than a law that talks about the Israeli flag and the Jewish character of the state?

Since the controversial law passed, other parties have also started to remind the public of their credentials ahead of the election that could be initiated in October and held as early as January.

Most notably, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon rented billboards painting his economic accomplishments as a key to Israel’s security. When other parties accused him of taking credit for projects implemented at their request, Kahlon’s associates said that as finance minister, he deserved credit for every allocation made by the state.

In doing so, Kahlon shows that he learned from Netanyahu, who consistently has claimed credit for everything his ministers have accomplished, much to their chagrin.

One idea being floated is that when the Knesset returns, Netanyahu will initiate the expedited passage of a law permitting gay men to have children through surrogates. Such a law would result in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties leaving his government.

The Likud could then undercut efforts by Yesh Atid to take votes away from the party using matters of religion and state. There are those who say Netanyahu cannot take such a step, because he would want to form another government with United Torah Judaism and Shas. But, unlike in the past, there would be no alternative prime minister for them to support.

Another complication is that, as The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob has reported, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit might not prevent the Supreme Court from ordering Netanyahu to resign following an indictment on bribery charges.

Then there is the Ben-Gurion factor. Netanyahu is set to pass Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister on September 24.

But that is only if Ben-Gurion’s term as head of the provisional government, from May 14, 1948, to March 10, 1949, is not counted. If that period does count for Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu would need to stay in power longer to pass him up.

According to Israel Democracy Institute researcher Ofer Kenig, to really pass Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu would have to remain prime minister until May 31, 2019.

Considering that it usually takes a week for the president to appoint a candidate to form a government and up to six weeks to form one, the election would have to be held no earlier than around Passover to accomplish that goal.

So if Netanyahu intended to make history, both by passing the law and by passing Ben-Gurion, he might have accomplished one but not the other.


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