Ministerial committee to vote on contentious bill defining Israel as Jewish state

Livni sees bill as problematic, saying she will not be a part of passing a law that puts Israel’s Jewishness before its democratic character.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A proposed Basic Law declaring Israel as the Jewish state will be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation Sunday, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s backing.
Netanyahu threw his support behind coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked and Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov’s version of Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, nicknamed the “Nationality Bill” in May, following the breakdown of talks with the Palestinians.
There have been several versions of the bill in recent years, the original being one by former Kadima MK Avi Dichter and MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud Beytenu), which Elkin recently resubmitted.
The Levin-Shaked-Ilatov bill declares that “the State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, where they realize their aspiration for self-determination according to their cultural and historical legacy.”
According to the measure, “the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
Levin and Shaked submitted their bill months after the 19th Knesset was inaugurated in 2013, but Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) blocked it on the grounds that it puts “Jewishness” before democracy.
As such, in what is seen as a gesture to Yesh Atid and Hatnua, the bill going to a vote on Sunday explicitly calls Israel a “Jewish and democratic state,” as opposed to a previous draft that said Israel is a Jewish state with a democratic system of government.
It calls Israel a democratic state “based on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace according to the visions of the prophets of Israel, and committed to the personal rights of all its citizens as detailed in every Basic Law.”
Still, the language mentions personal rights for all citizens – as opposed to national rights – making it clear that only the Jewish people has the right to statehood in the Land of Israel.
Levin explained the necessity of the measure, saying that “the State of Israel is a Jewish state with a democratic system of government, not a country of all its citizens or all its infiltrators, in which Jewish life takes place on the fringes.
“This basic principle, on which the State of Israel was established, is being eroded by High Court rulings, and we need to stop the post-Zionist process by anchoring Israel’s identity and basic values in a Basic Law,” he added.
Ilatov pointed out that Israel’s Jewishness was declared in the first Zionist Congress and in the Independence Scroll, as well as in other official documents, and said the time has come to give it constitutional weight to clearly define Israel’s character.
“Just like there is Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom to establish Israel’s democratic character, we need a Basic Law for its Jewishness,” Shaked explained. “I’m sure we’ll reach a draft [of the bill] that will reflect the consensus in Israeli society about its meaning.”
Levin said he would work to get the broadest consensus possible for the bill, as Netanyahu instructed him to do.
The legislation features sections on the flag, anthem and symbol of Israel, and reinforces the Law of Return.
The bill defines the Land of Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the place where the State of Israel is founded,” giving legal status to the historic Land of Israel.
Unlike the Dichter-Elkin version of the bill, this one does not deal with the official status of Arabic.
Another article of the bill could change the situation on the Temple Mount, as it declares that “holy sites will be protected from desecration and from anything preventing free access for all religions who consider the sites holy.”
Livni still saw the bill as problematic Thursday, saying that she will not be a part of passing a law that puts Israel’s Jewishness before its democratic character.
“I won’t let a law that treats democracy like a technical method move forward,” she said. “As long as I am in the government, a law will not pass that puts the national element over the democratic. I won’t give up on either side of the equation.”
Livni expressed hope that she would reach an agreement with Levin, Shaked and Ilatov, but said that it will not happen if the bill “completely twists the State of Israel’s values.”
“The real goal of the bill,” Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said, “is to push the word ‘Jewish’ forward and push back democracy.”
According to Gal-On, “the clear result of [the bill’s passage] will be that Jews get preference over all other Israeli citizens and the word ‘democracy’ is left there so our allies on the other side of the ocean don’t nag us.”