Bennett rejects US criticism of Jewish state bill: 'We'll manage Israel's affairs ourselves'

US expresses concerns that proposed legislation could threaten Israel's commitment to democratic principles; Bennett says bill rights a historic imbalance.

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday rejected American criticism of the 'Jewish state bill,' imploring the US to stay out of Israel's internal affairs.
The cabinet has approved the bill, which aims to cement the Jewish nature of the state in law, but it faces staunch opposition from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leading to a crisis which has threatened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coaltion.
Though the legislative process is still ongoing – a Knesset vote on the bill has been delayed until next week amid the coalition crisis – US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the US expected Israel to preserve its "commitment to democratic principles," no matter the "shape and final outcome."
Rathke, speaking to journalists in Washington, reiterated a long-held belief of the Obama administration – that "Israel is a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens should enjoy equal rights."
Asked about US criticism of the bill in an Army Radio interview on Tuesday, Bennett said, "I say to the Americans: we will manage the matters of the State of Israel ourselves."
"We need to deal with the significance of which type of state we want. Do we want the massive entry of foreigners into Israel? Do we want the erosion in the future of the Galilee or the Negev which may have an Arab majority and could have nationalistic demands? We're the ones who have to deal with these questions."
The economy minister, currently on a state visit to China, said that "20 years ago a constitutional revolution happened here that put the rights of the individual over the definition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people. This created an imbalance and the nation-state bill is returning this balance of a Jewish and democratic state. This has very practical consequences, such as in the case of infiltrators and Arab family unification."
He said the High Court is not taking this value into account during its rulings and therefore it must be made constitutional in the form of a Basic Law.
"We need the ability to defend the State of Israel and therefore this law is very appropriate," Bennett told Army Radio.
"Thousands of Arabs have entered Israel through the family unification law. They never used the argument that Israel is a Jewish state in order to stop this. They've used security justifications which do not stand up," he said.
He rejected Livni's and Lapid's resistance to the bill saying that they had acceded to pass a law making Israel the nation-state of the Jews in the coalition agreement.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel was "no less of a great democracy than the United States."
Defending the bill, he told Army Radio, "Our founding fathers determined that the State of Israel would be for the Jewish people. It is our right to preserve our uniqueness and not be afraid of anything," he said.
There are several proposed versions of Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People – which were authorized by the coalition with 15 in favor and six opposed – declaring Israel to be the site of self-determination exclusively for the Jewish people. Netanyahu’s version avoids some of the more controversial sections of the two similar private member bills, such as the status of Arabic or settlement construction.
Jewish state bill drafts by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud), Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) had been scheduled to go to a preliminary vote in the Knesset Wednesday, until the agreement was reached to delay the vote. Then, the bills will go to a Knesset committee, where they will be combined in accordance with Netanyahu’s draft.
All three versions of the bill reinforce “Hatikva” as the national anthem, the state symbols, use of the Hebrew calendar and the Law of Return, and call to grant freedom of access to holy places and protect them.
Netanyahu said Monday that he would enable dialogue to come to a compromise on the bill, but was prepared to pass it without all of his coalition members if need be.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.