Middle ground rejected as Nation-State bill debate rages-on

“According to his stance, we don’t need a nation-state bill, because what Folkmann is proposing is already in Basic Law," said Coalition chairman David Bitan.

October 1, 2017 19:08
3 minute read.
Middle ground rejected as Nation-State bill debate rages-on

Special committee to pass the Basic Law: Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People committee chairman Amir Ohana (Likud) , Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Kulanu hopes to placate critics of the controversial “nation-state bill” with a new article proposed by faction chairman Roi Folkmann that would guarantee the rights of all Israeli citizens.

But a high-profile objection in the coalition may prevent it from moving forward.

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The MK said Sunday that Israel “cannot demand loyalty or responsibility from citizens who feel like the state doesn’t belong to them. Such a basic law, like the nation-state bill, needs a broad consensus. Not everything can happen through ultimatums. That is the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the spirit of unity we need when drafting the bill.”

Folkmann’s compromise draft reads: “The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish People, which is committed to protecting the rights of all its residents.”

The nation-state bill is meant to anchor Israel’s status as the Jewish nation-state in a Basic Law, which would be part of an eventual constitution. It incorporates state symbols, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Law of Return and more.

Critics have questioned where a bill specifically naming the state Jewish would leave non-Jewish citizens, whereas its proponents say other Basic Laws, such as Human Dignity and Liberty, guarantee equal individual rights to all citizens, making it redundant to mention it in the new bill.

Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said he opposes the compromise.

“According to his stance, we don’t need a nation-state bill, because what Folkmann is proposing is already in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and in Supreme Court precedent. We will pass a law… that means Israel needs to be seen as the Jewish State and the courts have to find a balance between this law and other basic laws,” he said.

The special committee working on the bill, led by Likud MK Amir Ohana, has held several heated meetings since it was formed in July with much of the debate centered around whether the word “equality,” for all citizens, should be included.

Zionist Union MKs led the call for the added clause.

Folkmann wrote to Ohana last week that “the law must reflect the balance between Israel being a state in which the Jews exercise their right to an independent state in their homeland and it being a democracy in which sovereignty is given to all of its citizens, which is based on the foundations of freedom and equality and is committed to honoring its residents’ human rights.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Kulanu’s head, supports the proposal, and Folkmann says he has the support of others in the coalition, but would not say who. He called on all coalition and opposition factions to support his proposal.

Bitan’s opposition is a formidable obstacle for Folkmann’s compromise.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who has repeatedly called for an equality clause to be added to the bill, called on Kulanu “not to run away from the word equality.”

“Instead of coming up with solutions for the extremists in the government, take the Declaration of Independence and write simply that Israel is the state of the Jewish People in which there is equality for all.

A state in which only the Jewish People have the national right for self-determination and there is equality,” Livni stated.

“That is the bill I proposed, and it anchors the Declaration of Independence and doesn’t erase it.”

The Israeli Declaration of Independence declared the “establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” It uses the word “Jewish” or “Jew” 24 times and “equal” or “equality” once each.

The text guarantees “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Its signatories also state: “We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

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