Cabinet set to vote on controversial 'Jewish State bill'

PM Netanyahu says the bill would enshrine full equality under law to all Israeli citizens regardless of race, religion or gender, while ensuring Israel's Jewish identity.

November 23, 2014 05:59
3 minute read.
Binyamin Netanyahu

Binyamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The cabinet on Sunday is going to vote on — and expected to approve — two versions of the controversial "Jewish State Law." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also present his own version of the bill to the cabinet.

Justice minister Tzipi Livni wrote on Facebook Saturday night that she will stand up for the values of the State of Israel as written in Israel's declaration of independence.

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Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state," she wrote, later saying that she "will not lend a hand to anything that damages [the values stated in the declaration of independence].

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein presented his opposition and said that the government should not support such a law, according to Israel Radio.

Netanyahu said that the “Jewish state bill” that he will bring to the cabinet will enshrine full equality under the law to all Israeli citizens without regard to race, religion or gender, as well as ensuring the identity of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.

“There is no contradiction between the two things, and we will not allow the undermining of these two principles,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu’s proposal is the latest attempt to give Israel’s status as a Jewish state legal weight, drafted after coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) pushed his version to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last Sunday, where panel chairwoman Justice Minister Tzipi Livni blocked it, setting off a political storm.

Most versions of the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People are not meant to be declarative; they seek to give the High Court of Justice something to consider when making rulings, in addition to democracy, as they would be basic laws, which the court gives constitutional standing.

After the cabinet authorizes Netanyahu’s incarnation of the constitutional provision, others – one by Elkin, another by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and one by MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) – will be brought to preliminary votes in the Knesset on Wednesday.

After all three versions are approved, they will be combined into one bill in whichever Knesset committee reviews it.

Coalition parties agreed on how to move forward with the bill that sparked a crisis on Wednesday night, in a meeting with Livni, Elkin, Shaked, Calderon and Education Minister Shai Piron.

Netanyahu’s version of the legislation is very similar to the Elkin and Levin-Shaked initiatives, in that they focus on Israel as the site of self-determination for the Jewish people, but it avoids some of the more controversial articles of the private member bills, such as the status of Arabic or settlement construction.

Livni’s brief variation of the bill, drafted on Monday in response to sparring in the coalition but dropped following the agreement, reads: “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people in which it exercises its right to self-determination, democracy based on principles of freedom, justice and peace, and has equality for all of its citizens.”

The prime minister’s proposal does not mention equality for all citizens, though there are other basic laws guaranteeing that right.

The Netanyahu bill, like Elkin’s, states that holy places must be protected from “anything that could harm the freedom of access by religions to the places that are sacred to them or to their sentiments toward those places.” This could support assertions that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Just as the Elkin and Levin- Shaked versions do, the prime minister’s proposal also reinforces the “Hatikva” as the national anthem, state symbols, use of the Hebrew calendar and the Law of Return.

Lahav Harkov and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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