Amid coalition crisis, committee pushes ‘Jewish state bill’ forward
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Amid coalition crisis, committee pushes ‘Jewish state bill’ forward

Facing threat of early elections, lawmakers work to bring compromise wording of controversial legislation to Knesset plenum for first reading

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (R), Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (L) and Likud Knesset Member Amir Ohana (C) attend a  committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (R), Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (L) and Likud Knesset Member Amir Ohana (C) attend a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid a coalition crisis that threatens to take the country to early elections, a special Knesset committee on Tuesday advanced a long-frozen controversial bill that would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and sent it to its first Knesset reading.

A joint meeting of the House Committee and the Constitution Committee chaired by Likud’s Amir Ohana agreed to a compromise of  the Jewish State bill. The legislation, for the first time in Israeli law, would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.” If passed, 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.

The bill, first proposed in 2014, has been mired in controversy, with critics branding it as racist. Voting on the bill had been delayed repeatedly as coalition partners rejected it.

The push to get the bill to the Knesset for its first reading on Wednesday may be designed to protect it in the event of early elections. Once a bill has passed its first reading, even if the government is dissolved, it continues through the legislative process to its second and third readings once the next government is formed.

“The agreements we have reached will bring about a proper balance in the law of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel,” Kulanu’s lead lawmaker on the issue, Roy Folkman, told Israel Hayom before the vote. “The removal of the supremacy clause is essential to preserve the value of equality and individual rights of Israeli citizens.”

The supremacy cause said that in cases where there was a contradiction between Israel being a Jewish state and a democratic state, the Jewish element would prevail.

The bill was first advanced by Likud MK Avi Dichter in 2014 but, facing criticism from both opposition members and liberal-minded members of his own party, it was shelved soon after. Since then, a number of versions of the legislation have been drafted by right-wing lawmakers but none has made it through the Knesset to become law.

The current bill passed its preliminary reading in May.

Marissa Newman and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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