The Knesset building.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The coalition plans to pass the controversial proposed Basic Law: Israel – Nation State of the Jewish People in a first reading this winter, without any significant changes to the original draft, the government said on Sunday.
“The Jewish nation-state bill is one of the most important laws the Knesset has ever dealt with and we plan to bring it to a vote in this Knesset session,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasked with handling coalition negotiations on the bill.
The Knesset winter session ends in late March 2018.
Likud MK Amir Ohana, who heads the legislative committee working on the bill, told a meeting of coalition heads that the first reading is expected to take place in the next few weeks.
Levin’s announcement came after coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said in recent weeks that he does not see the bill going to a vote in the near future.
The Jewish nation-state bill declares that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and includes many declarative elements about the Jewish homeland, and reinforces many existing laws in a Basic Law, such as the flag, national anthem and national symbol and the right of any Jewish person to immigrate to Israel. Its opponents have raised concerns about articles that could bring changes, such as one saying the Supreme Court should consider Jewish tradition if there is a case with no legal precedent. Two particularly controversial sections are one saying that Hebrew is the official language while Arabic has special status, and one allowing “separate communal settlements” that can be for one religion or nationality.
Levin said the bill “will be authorized in a first reading in the draft that was agreed-upon between the heads of coalition parties, and in a format that matches the principles in the original proposal by MK [Avi] Dichter,” Levin said.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) first proposed the Jewish nation-state bill in 2011. He thanked Levin and Ohana “for pushing the nation-state bill I initiated so it’ll go to a first reading in the coming weeks. The bill I initiated is the flagship bill for the Likud and the coalition. I and my friends in the Likud will do everything so…it will be in the law books before Israel’s 70th Independence Day.”
The draft for a first reading is almost identical to the draft that passed a preliminary reading.
One notable change is to the section on the judiciary, which originally stated that if “a court has a legal question that demands a decision and did not find an answer in legislation or precedent, it should declare based on the principles of liberty, justice, integrity and peace of Jewish heritage.” Jewish law is added to the things the court should consider in the latest draft.
The draft also includes a new article calling the Land of Israel the “historic homeland of the Jewish people, and a section that said the state will work to “preserve the cultural and historic heritage of the Jewish people” among Diaspora Jewry now includes preserving religious heritage, as well.
Asked if hardly changing a draft from one reading to the next makes his committee’s work irrelevant, Ohana said, “We will continue the discussions with a goal of reaching agreements – in the coalition as well – before the second and third readings. There are still many disagreements, which will be resolved before the second and third readings.”
Similarly, Levin said that after the first reading, “We will be able to make changes if they will be acceptable for all coalition party heads and first and foremost for the prime minister, who is personally leading this bill.”
Two matters are written into the committee’s current draft as “alternative drafts for discussion.”
First is the bill’s purpose. Currently, it says: “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in order to anchor in a Basic Law the State of Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles declared in the establishment of the State of Israel.”
The committee will discuss whether to write “Jewish state with a democratic government,” instead of “Jewish and democratic state.”
In addition, the controversial segment about Arabic having a special status and the right to access government services in Arabic may be replaced with: “This article will not harm the status given in practicality to the Arabic language before the beginning of this Basic Law.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a vocal opponent of the bill, said: “The Likud needs to remove the photo of Herzl from the Knesset, the copy of the Declaration of Independence from their meeting room and the bust of [Likud ideological forebear Ze’ev] Jabotinsky from Likud headquarters.
“No one should doubt that they do not represent Zionism today,” she tweeted.