A proposed “Jewish state bill” may be up for a Knesset vote next week. An amalgamation of previous drafts, the bill would, among other things, enshrine in Basic Law Israel’s Jewish identity, reserve the right of national self-determination to Jews only, institutionalize Jewish law as the basis for Israeli law, and de-list Arabic as an official language, relegating it to “special status.”
Passed by a 14-6 majority of cabinet ministers on Sunday, the bill – which includes some 14 principles – still requires Knesset approval. With Yesh Atid and Hatnua threatening to leave the coalition government in reaction to the proposal, the Knesset vote was postponed until the middle of next week, at least.
“The vote set off a stormy cabinet session in which two of his most centrist coalition partners voted against the proposed bill and voiced fierce opposition, claiming that at this sensitive juncture it would likely just escalate tensions,” reported CBC.
President Reuven Rivlin is against the bill, saying it undermines the country’s Jewish character and calls into question the success of Zionism. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also has come out against the bill, writing a legal opinion that was published in Hebrew on Walla, indicating, according to various news reports, that the planned proposal features “significant changes in the founding principles of constitutional law as anchored in the Declaration of Independence and in the basic laws of the Knesset, which can flatten the democratic character of the state.”
Despite these and many other criticisms and concerns expressed within Israel by Israelis, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he is determined to pass the bill, “with or without consensus.” He confusingly added, “I don’t know a country that is more democratic, or a more vibrant democracy than Israel in the world, certainly not in our region.” Yet this point of pride would no longer exist if the bill passed.
Outside of the country, the United States State Department cautioned that Israel should “stick to its democratic principles.” This warning was roundly rejected by Jewish Home party MK and Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, who reportedly said, “We will manage the affairs of the state of Israel. We have to deal with the ramifications of what sort of state we want. In the end, this is our problem, an internal problem, and I don’t think anyone has the right to wade into it.”
Just what kind of state this bill is proposing is not clear. Not to wade into it too deeply but we find ourselves agreeing with the U.S. State Department and the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, who made a statement about how “well-meaning” (we’re not sure about that) and “unnecessary” the bill is, the latter being an opinion expressed by many of those that lean to the right in Israel. We even find ourselves agreeing, at first blush, with those on the left in Israel who are calling the bill racist.
In his Nov. 25 Haaretz column, Bradley Burston writes, “Listen to the words of Mahmoud Seif, uncle of sergeant-major Zidan Nahad Seif, the Druze Arab Israeli policeman slain … as he fought to stop the terrorist murder of Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue…. ‘The “nation-state law,” is saying, in other words: “Only the Jews should remain here.”’
“‘What about the Druze? What about the many, many Arabs who are loyal to the country?’ he asked on Army Radio this week.
“‘What are they going to do now? This is a law for Jews only.’”
Twenty percent of Israel’s population – one in five – is not Jewish.
All logic, all compassion, all pragmatism – everything! – cries out against this bill. Please, Knesset, vote it down.