Contentious nation-state bill clears committee ahead of final vote
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Contentious nation-state bill clears committee ahead of final vote

MK Ahmed Tibi declares ‘death of democracy,’ as legislation, which has sparked accusations of anti-Arab discrimination, is advanced

Knesset members vote on amendments to the proposed Jewish nation-state bill at the Knesset, July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Knesset members vote on amendments to the proposed Jewish nation-state bill at the Knesset, July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After days of deliberation and revision, the contentious nation-state bill on Wednesday passed its final committee reading before it is set to come up for its final vote in the Knesset plenum later in the day or on Thursday.

The committee announced that objections to the controversial Clause 7 had been rejected.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett reached an agreement to cut the original clause, which allowed the state to “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community,” and replace it with a new clause celebrating “Jewish settlement” in Israel in general terms.

MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint (Arab) List faction decried Wednesday’s committee and upcoming plenum votes.

“I declare with astonishment and sorrow the death of democracy… The funeral will take place today in the plenum,” Tibi said in an Arabic statement, apparently intended as an oblique criticism of another clause in the bill that would strip Arabic of its status as an official language.

MK Yael German of the Yesh Atid party said the bill passed by the committee was a “poison pill to Israeli democracy.”

Knesset member Yael German at a committee meeting in the Knesset on January 1, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Some of the last-minute changes to the bill came after politicians, legal advisers and others warned that several of its clauses were discriminatory and could cast a dark shadow over Israel in the international arena.

President Reuven Rivlin, whose position is generally considered to be symbolic, expressed concerns about the bill in a rare intervention in Israeli politics last week. In a letter to lawmakers, Rivlin warned the legislation “could harm the Jewish people worldwide and in Israel, and could even be used as a weapon by our enemies.”

Outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon also raised opposition to the text.

If passed, the law would become one of the so-called Basic Laws which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Beit Shemesh municipal workers take down “modesty” signs in the city on December 11, 2017. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

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, and the presidency, while Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty defines Israel’s democratic character.

The bill would also declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, set the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognize Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays.

On Tuesday the committee also approved clauses 5 and 6 stipulating that the state will be open to Jewish immigration and maintain close links with the Jewish diaspora, as opposed to all Jews around the world — an addition requested by ultra-Orthodox factions that sought to prevent money from going to the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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