Despite Netanyahu push, Jewish nation-state bill unlikely to be fast-tracked

One of the more controversial elements of the bill is that it declares Hebrew to be the language of the state, while Arabic has a special status.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 3, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 3, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to have Basic Law: Nation-State of the Jewish People pass a first reading in the next two weeks is practically impossible, Likud MK Amir Ohana, chairman of a brand-new special committee to pass the legislation, said on Wednesday.
Netanyahu strongly backs the bill declaring Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, saying on Monday that “this is a central matter; it is the essence of our existence,” and that it would pass a first reading by the time the Knesset’s summer session ends on July 26.
Ohana said he spoke to Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon, who told him the demand to so speedily pass a complex Basic Law – a law that is meant to form part of an eventual constitution – is “unrealistic, and even if we sit day and night, it’s not clear that we’ll succeed.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), a close Netanyahu ally who proposed one of the many iterations of the nation-state bill in the previous Knesset, said the legal argument that the legislation can’t be passed so fast is just an attempt to block it.
“There is a long public debate taking place on the topic since it passed a preliminary vote long ago [on May 10], and there is nothing stopping the committee from holding meetings in the coming two weeks,” Levin said. “The claim is unfounded, because of the simple fact that if we would pass the bill as a government proposal, there wouldn’t be any debates in a committee before a first reading.”
Opposition MKs said Netanyahu was rushing the bill to distract attention from other problems.
According to MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), it’s because of the investigation into allegations of corruption the purchase of submarines from Germany: “This is the submarine effect... Every time there’s trouble or investigations, there is a nationalist, racist law.”
Meretz MK Esawi Frej said it’s because Avi Gabbay was elected head of the Labor Party, and Netanyahu is worried about the polls.
The nation-state bill is mostly declarative, describing the state symbol, national anthem, flag and capital, saying Israel works to strengthen ties to the Diaspora and repeating the Law of Return.
Speaking at the Knesset House Committee meeting called on Wednesday to authorize the formation of the special committee for the bill, Ohana said the new panel “emphasizes the importance the government sees in this matter.”