Constitution draft meets mixed reviews

Amid criticism from all sides, MKs vote to pass draft proposal to next Knesset.

knesset in rain 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
knesset in rain 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Amid the celebrations surrounding the Knesset's 57th birthday and the presentation of a proposal for a national constitution Monday, MKs from the right and left wing parties lambasted the draft as "unfit for the state of Israel," while Likud, Labor and Kadima MKs heralded its arrival. In a vote of 30-19 the Knesset agreed to pass on the draft proposal to the 17th Knesset. Law and Justice Committee Chairman Michael Eitan, who has led the drive to create the draft, presented a CD of the 9,000 page report which included proposals and background material written by constitutional experts. Addressing the Knesset plenum, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the issue of establishing final borders for the Jewish state should be put ahead of traditional party rivalries. "The supreme goal of consolidating the status of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state will be foremost on our mind," said Olmert. "The first mission towards achieving this goal will be the determination of the final borders of the State of Israel." Olmert then added that a mission "no less important" was the creation of a Constitution. "The Constitution is a central tool for anchoring Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state in the deepest and most ethical meaning of these terms," Olmert said. Following Olmert, Opposition leader and Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu told MKs that it was necessary to approve a constitution, because a "dangerous and distorted image of the Knesset has been developed within in the public thought." "Israel cannot base its constitution on the American model," warned Netanyahu. "The constitution needs to protect citizens from tyranny, but it also has to provide tools for the government to protect itself and the citizens from the reality of the situation we live in." Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, who has based his election campaign on a socio-economic agenda, also told MKs that they must demand that civil rights are included in the constitution. "What's the point of freedom of speech if there are illiterate citizens?" asked Peretz. "What is the meaning of privacy when there are many homeless? What is the meaning of human dignity when beggars fill our streets and people search for food in bins?" While the Kadima, Likud and Labor MKs followed those speeches with affirmations over the necessity of a constitution, the right-wing parties insisted that it was an "unnecessary" document. "This draft destroys the spirit and soul of Israel, it gives legitimacy to the separation of church and state in Israel," said NRP leader Zvulun Orlev. "Its essence must be Israel as a Jewish state - the heart of Israel is the Jewish religion." Meanwhile, the left-wing Meretz party decried the constitution for its failure to protect minority communities in Israel. "The draft constitution is unsuitable," said Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On. "It fails to protect Israel's minority communities, such women, those who wish to marry outside the Rabbinate, Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and the homosexual community." Various members of the American Jewish Congress (AJC), which assisted the Knesset's Law Committee in compiling the draft, lauded the proposal. "It is the rule of law and the dispensation of justice, rather than charity, which protects the interests of Jews worldwide," said AJC Director Neil B. Goldstein. The AJC has availed itself to the committee in two ways, said Goldstein. It connected the committee with constitutional legal scholars in the Diaspora, and worked with the Jewish Agency and American Jewish Forum to create dialogue among the Diaspora Jewry over the proposed constitution. "It is a momentous occasion for us," said Danny Grossman, the Israel Director of the AJC. "We've all come together so that Eitan can present the best product for the Jewish people."