Ministers gave their go-ahead Sunday to a controversial and long-debated proposal to officially define Israel as a Jewish nation-state.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted unanimously in favor of throwing coalition support behind Likud MK Avi Dichter’s Jewish State bill, which, for the first time in Israeli law, would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.”
If passed in the Knesset, the law would become one of the so-called Basic Laws, which like a constitution guide Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.
Judaism is already mentioned throughout the country’s laws, and religious authorities control many aspects of life, including marriage. But the 11 existing Basic Laws deal mostly with state institutions like the Knesset, the courts or the presidency, while Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty defines Israel’s democratic character. The nation-state bill, proponents say, would put Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing.
”This is a small step for the Jewish State bill, which establishes that Israel is and will be a Jewish and democratic state, and it’s a big step toward defining our identity, not only in the eyes of the world but primarily for ourselves, Israelis. To be a free people in our land,” Dichter said in response to the decision.
He said that the bill was needed to counter Palestinian efforts to deny Jewish rights to Israel. “Events of recent months prove that this is a battle for the Israel’s image and national identity. The Palestinians no longer hide their goal of erasing the Jewish people’s nation-state,” he wrote in defense of the legislation.
Critics, however, said that the bill is discriminatory to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations.
Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh issued a harsh condemnation of the legislation, calling the Ministerial Committee decision a “declaration of war” on Israel’s Arab citizens. “Discrimination has received a legal stamp. The danger in this law in that it establishes two classes of citizen — Jewish and Arab,” he wrote in a statement.
The latest version appears to be a compromise between the various drafts put forward over the last three years, reaching out to liberals by including the phrase “Jewish and democratic” and omitting a previously included affirmation of the importance of settlement throughout Israel’s borders, but leaving in some contentious elements such as downgrading Arabic from an official language.
Ayman Odeh calls Jewish state bill a ‘declaration of war’
According to the language of the proposal, while every individual has the right “to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity,” the right to realize self-determination “is unique to the Jewish people.”
In another controversial clause, Arabic would be relegated from an official language to one with “special status,” for which its speakers would be ensured the “right to accessible state services.”