67 years on, the State of Israel is ‘legally named’… the State of Israel
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67 years on, the State of Israel is ‘legally named’… the State of Israel

Likud MK Oren Hazan touts his new law as a 'mini' Jewish state bill, but legal experts say country's name was never questioned and law is entirely superfluous

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud MK Oren Hazan holds a press conference in the Knesset on October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Likud MK Oren Hazan holds a press conference in the Knesset on October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Likud MK Oren Hazan, arguably Israel’s most scandalous lawmaker, appears to be having a pretty good week, for a change.

On Sunday, he squared off with Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal in court (Hazan is suing Segal for a report last year accusing him of soliciting prostitutes and using crystal meth while employed as a casino manager in Bulgaria). And on Monday, the rookie MK – who recently was suspended from some committee meetings by his own party and has in the past been suspended from the Knesset for his unruly behavior after insulting a wheelchair-bound MK, as well as rapped by the state comptroller for failing to report all of his primaries spending, a crime that can carry a three-year sentence – got his very first bill passed into law in the Knesset.

Hazan touted his proposal to legally name the State of Israel “The State of Israel,” as a “mini” Jewish state law, referring to the contentious bill that came crashing down last year — along with the previous Knesset.

But legal experts say that Hazan’s bill is legally meaningless, totally insignificant and is being misinterpreted by Hazan. In short, the State of Israel’s name — anchored in the Declaration of Independence, which was later alluded to in the constitutional Basic Laws — was never in doubt.

The bill was signed into law on Monday afternoon, with 30 lawmakers voting in favor and nine opposed. In July, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation had announced it would support the provision to add the name of “The State of Israel” into its law on Israel’s flag and national symbols, thus giving Hazan’s proposal coalition support.

“Hallelujah!” wrote Hazan this week on his Facebook page: “67 years after the founding of the State of Israel, there is an appropriate Zionist response to our enemies: the ‘name of Israel’ law, that I legislated, was approved yesterday in its third reading and is on the books. After many years in which the formal name of the state — and equally important, its meaning — was not anchored in law, from now on the name of the State of Israel will enjoy immunity and Jewish significance.”

Speaking in the Knesset immediately after it was approved, Hazan declared that it was the “first time that we aren’t ashamed to say that the land of Israel is for the people of Israel. Finally, we managed to pass, perhaps, a small version of the Jewish state bill.”

However, Professor Ruth Gavison, an Israeli law expert and Israel Prize laureate, who was appointed by former justice minister Tzipi Livni to draft an alternative Jewish nation-state bill in 2014, maintained Hazan’s bill was nothing at all like the Jewish state bill, and while harmless, was also entirely pointless.

Ruth Gavison, Israeli law professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. February 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Ruth Gavison, Israeli law professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. February 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

“This is certainly an example of an unnecessary legislation,” Gavison told The Times of Israel in an email. “Although no one would have an interest in combating it, because it really doesn’t do much. And on the other hand, if someone would fight it, people would say that he is against the state. Hazan incorrectly describes the legislation when he says it is in any way analogous to the Jewish nation-state law, which had created a huge debate, whose goal was to create constitutional entrenchment of Israel as the nation state of Jews, with relegating its democratic nature to a secondary level.”

In fact, Hazan’s revised law, “only adds the name of the state to its flag, anthem and symbols law, and adds authorization by the interior minister to regulate their use by state institutions or people in public service. Very consequential indeed,” Gavison said dryly.

Dr. Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute agreed the bill was basically “meaningless” and “won’t change anything.” While the Declaration of Independence, in which the name of the State of Israel is enshrined, is not a legal document, he said, Israel’s constitutional Basic Laws cite the principles of the declaration as inspiration. (In the Basic Law on human liberty and dignity, for example, the legislation maintains: “These rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.”)

David Ben-Gurion, flanked by the members of his provisional government, reads the Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum Hall on May 14, 1948 (photo credit: Israel Government Press Office)
David Ben-Gurion, flanked by the members of his provisional government, reads the Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum Hall on May 14, 1948 (photo credit: Israel Government Press Office)

“There is no doubt about what the name of the state is, therefore it’s not really missing [from Israeli legislation],” Fuchs said.

Dr. Avi Bareli, a political historian at Ben-Gurion University, also said Hazan’s assertion that this marked the first legal recognition of Israel’s name was incorrect.

“It’s not true, because Israel declared itself a state, and said it is the ‘State of Israel.’ The Declaration of Independence is said not to be a legal document. But then two things happened. The Supreme Court decided to use it to interpret Israel’s constitutional laws… and references to the declaration were inserted into the Basic Laws,” he said.

The new law is “ridiculous,” Bareli said, calling it a “waste of time and money on nonsense.”

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