Cabinet ministers on Sunday sparred over the place of Zionism in government decisions in response to a proposal by Otzma Yehudit.
The proposal states: “The values of Zionism, as they are expressed in Basic Law: Nation-State of the Jewish People, will be the leading and decisive values in setting public policy, domestic and foreign policy, legislation and actions of the government and all of its units and institutions.”
The cabinet decided to hold a vote via telephone later on Sunday to change the proposal’s text and ensure that haredim would not lose out on its benefits.The proposal by Development of the Negev and Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf (Otzma Yehudit) is meant to put the content of what is known as the “Nation-State Law” into action. That law, which passed in 2018, states that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. It also states that the right to self-determination in Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people, without overriding individual rights delineated in other laws.
The proposal is a consequence of the Nation-State Law
Other relevant parts of the law state that Jerusalem is the capital, Hebrew is the official language, while Arabic has a special status, the country is open for Jewish immigration and strives to help ensure the safety of Jews in trouble, and it strives to strengthen the ties between Israel and the Diaspora.
In addition, the Basic Law states: “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
Wasserlauf said his proposal would “establish and strengthen the connection of the Jewish people to this land. [It would] allow us to give preference to combat soldiers, specifically, and those who serve, generally, and strengthen settlement in the Negev and Galilee.”
The proposal set off two debates in Sunday’s cabinet meeting about the role of Zionism in the government and whether they can proceed without approval from the attorney-general.
Haredi ministers expressed concern that their constituents, the vast majority of whom do not serve in the military and do not adhere to Zionism by name, would face discrimination.
“A dangerous thing is developing here,” said Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Tradition Minister Meir Porush (UTJ).
Health and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel (Shas) said the law would remain in place after the current, pro-haredi government is out of office.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) said the decision “prevents discrimination against Jews.”
The attorney-general’s office opposes the law
Deputy Attorney-General Gil Limon said he was opposed to the law.
“The government cannot decide that one value is superior to others,” he said.
In response, Ben-Gvir said: “Good thing you weren’t here in the time of [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion.”
“Whoever opposes our proposal favoring IDF soldiers turns himself to an opponent of Zionism,” he said earlier.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bill would help free obstacles created by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), which “discriminates and makes decisions about the future of our land.”
“This is a matter of policy, and I want to control policy,” he said in the cabinet meeting. “If we have to change the laws, we will.”
Netanyahu said the Attorney-General’s Office wants a discussion, but he wants to set policy.
“The situation is absurd,” he said. “In any case, this proposal is important. We have to pass it now.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud) said the ILA “acts on non-Zionist motives” and called for a decision to specifically require it to consider Zionism in its decisions.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said it was opposed to the Nation-State Law and its implementation as proposed in the cabinet.
“If the government authorizes this proposal, discrimination against Arab society will become a leading value for government ministries, and bureaucrats will have to design and advance policies and plans that give Jewish citizens preference and discriminate against Arab citizens,” it said.