Amendment to clarify equality in Nation-State Law rejected

Yesh Atid - Telem brought bill to insert clause guaranteeing equality to all citizens in controversial nation state law, which Gantz, Blue and White vowed to change during election campaigns.

Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi
(photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
An opposition bill to amend the controversial Nation-State Law to include a clause guaranteeing the equality of all citizens was defeated in the Knesset on Wednesday, although the senior Blue and White leadership absented themselves from the vote.
The defeat of the bill comes following a severe coalition crisis last week when Blue and White MKs voted in favor of an opposition bill to ban gay conversion therapy, and Wednesday’s vote demonstrates a return to coalition discipline.
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz was not present in the Knesset plenum for the vote, while senior Blue and White ministers including Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich, and Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata also absented themselves.
Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, as well MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, were among several Blue and White MKs who voted against the amendment.
The bill was defeated by 53 votes to 21.
“The Nation-State Law is the ID card of the State of Israel and will be the opening chapter of a future constitution, but it ignores a quarter of the citizens in the state, including me,” said Yesh Atid-Telem MK Gadeer Mreeh, who is from the Druze community, and advanced the bill.
“This is not ethical and is not democratic,” she declared.
“I do not wish to threaten or undermine the character of the state as a Jewish state, neither its Jewishness or its symbols. I come to defend the basic and important value of equality,” said the MK during the debate.
Cyber and National Digital Matters Minister and Likud MK David “Dudi” Amsalem responded for the coalition and insisted that Mreeh does indeed hold equal rights in the State of Israel.
“You have the exact same personal rights as I do, but in the State of Israel there is one nation and that is the Jewish nation,” he asserted.
Amsalem said that the initiative behind the Nation-State Law had come from what he alleged was a threat “by the Left” to annul the Law of Return, stipulating that Jews around the world who are not Israeli nationals can automatically gain Israeli citizenship and immigrate to Israel.
“This is the Jewish state and we are proud of it, and that’s how it will remain,” said the minister.
The Nation-State Law, passed by the previous government as a Basic Law, was heavily criticized for delineating Jewish national rights and symbols including the importance of “Jewish settlement,” but without any language guaranteeing the equality of all citizens, especially minorities.
The Druze community in particular objected to the law, which it felt excluded them from being part of the state, with its leaders arguing that it reduced them to second-class citizens.
Advocates of the bill argued, however, that equality for all citizens is legislated in Israel’s Basic Law: human dignity and freedom, while there had been no previous law delineating Israel’s Jewish character.
During the election campaign, the Blue and White Party pledged to amend the law to include explicit language guaranteeing the equal rights of non-Jews while preserving the clause asserting the State of Israel’s status as the nation state of the Jewish people where it exercises self-determination.
During the election campaign, Gantz told Druze leaders that he would “do everything I can in order to amend the Nation-State Law.”