Netanyahu: 'Jewish State bill' reflects values I support

PM says he 'can't run the country with coalition's ultimatums;' Livni, Lapid come out strongly against bill giving Israel's Jewish character legal weight.

Binyamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
Binyamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
How can people who support the concept of two-states for two-people be opposed to a law designating Israel as the Jewish homeland, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked at the opening of Sunday's cabinet meeting where he brought his version of the controversial "Jewish state bill" to a vote.
“People ask who needs this bill; we have managed 66 years without it,” Netanyahu said. “And I ask, who needs the basic law: Human Dignity and Liberty, we managed 45 years without it. We need both,” he said. “Israel is a Jewish democratic state. There are those who want democracy to take precedence over Judaism, and those who want Judaism to take precedence over democracy. In the law that I am bringing, both principles are equal and must be given equal consideration.”
Netanyahu said Israel is the national home of the Jewish people where there are equal rights for every citizens. “But there are national rights only for the Jewish people; a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel, and other national symbols,” he said.
The prime minister said this law was needed at this time because many people are challenging the idea that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people.
”The Palestinians refuse to recognize this, and there is also opposition from within – there are those who want to establish autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev, and who deny our national rights,” he said. “I also don't understand those who call for two states for two peoples, but at the same time oppose anchoring that in law. They are quick to recognize a Palestinian national home, but adamantly oppose a Jewish national home.”
The cabinet was expected to approve the prime minister's guidelines for the "Jewish State bill," as well as the Elkin and Levin-Shaked-Ilatov versions, which will go to a preliminary vote in the Knesset Wednesday. Then, the bills will go to a Knesset committee, where they will be combined in accordance with Netanyahu's draft.
The prime minister described his iteration of bill as not "softened" and posited that he did not change a word, in comparison to two private member bills by coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) and by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud), Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu).
"I brought the principles of the law which I believe, appear in the Independence Scroll," Netanyahu stated.
Netanyahu’s version of the legislation is very similar to the Elkin and Levin-Shaked-Ilatov initiatives, in that they focus on Israel as the site of self-determination for the Jewish people, but it avoids some of the more controversial articles of the private member bills, such as the status of Arabic or settlement construction.
The Netanyahu bill, like Elkin’s, states that holy places must be protected from “anything that could harm the freedom of access by religions to the places that are sacred to them or to their sentiments toward those places.” This could support assertions that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.
Just as the Elkin and Levin- Shaked-Ilatov versions do, the prime minister’s proposal reinforces the “Hatikva” as the national anthem, the state symbols, use of the Hebrew calendar and the Law of Return.
Netanyahu addressed threats and ultimatums by his coalition partners to break up the government over this and other issues, saying “the country cannot be run in this manner."
"We need to focus on strengthening security in the face of waves of Islamic extremism and the danger of a nuclear Iran, on strengthening Israel's economy and the citizens' welfare, and not with threats," he said. "I hope the heads of the coalition parties will unite and act in this spirit."
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said that while he is not against the concept of a "Jewish State bill," Netanyahu's version is "terrible and badly written, meant only for his needs in the Likud primary [in January]."
According to Lapid, first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, first Likud prime minister Menachem Begin and Likud ideological forebear Ze'ev Jabotinsky would have all opposed the measure.
Lapid also recounted speaking with the family of Zidan Sayef, the Border Police officer who was killed defending Jewish worshippers in the Jerusalem synagogue massacre last week.
"What will we tell them, that [Sayef] is a second-rate citizen?" he asked.
Justice minister Tzipi Livni wrote on Facebook Saturday night that she will stand up for the values of the State of Israel as written in Israel's declaration of independence.
"Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state," Livni wrote, adding that she "will not lend a hand to anything that damages [the values stated in Independence Scroll]."
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also expressed opposition and said the government should not support such a law, according to Israel Radio.
Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee chairman Yoel Razbozov said the bill is discriminatory against those with Jewish ancestry who fell under the Law of Return, but are not Jewish.
"I will do everything so the current version of the bill does not pass," he stated. "For years, the half-million non-Jewish immigrants and their families were discriminated against in the State of Israel, because they cannot get married like everyone else, be buried like everyone else and live in the Jewish State like everyone else. The Government of Israel should not ignore them and should not authorize the 'Jewish State bill' until an appropriate wording is found."
At the same time, Razobozov said that the idea of a "Jewish State bill" is a good one, but he is sure that there is a way to write one that does not harm non-Jewish immigrants' integration.
MK Dov Hanin (Hadash) said that instead of fighting discrimination against Israeli-Arabs, he is passing a law perpetuating it.
"Instead of lending a hand in dialogue with Arab citizens of Israel, Netanyahu chose to provoke and add fuel to the fire. Instead of working toward historic reconciliation with the Palestinian people, Netanyahu is blocking any progress toward an agreement. Instead of building a future of life and equality, Netanyahu is leading to conflict and tragedy," Hanin stated. Staff contributed to this report.