Far-right minister pushes decree to make Zionism a ‘guiding value’ in gov’t decisions

Yitzhak Wasserlauf says measure, aimed at putting contentious Nation-State Law into practice, will come up for a vote at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, though agenda yet to be set

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Negev and the Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Negev and the Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A far-right minister announced Wednesday that he will advance a decree to make Zionism a “guiding and crucial value” in government policy-making, in an effort to put the tenets of the contentious Jewish Nation-State Law into practice.

Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf said the draft government decision, which he billed as “historic,” would come up for a vote when the cabinet convenes Sunday for its weekly meeting, the agenda of which is due to be released Thursday but has yet to be set.

“We will continue to wave the flag of Zionism, for settlement and security,” Wasserlauf, a member of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, said in a statement.

He also asserted the measure would allow the government “to give preference to IDF soldiers and veterans of the army, strengthen the Jewish nation’s bond to its land and strengthen the Negev, Galilee and Judea and Samaria [West Bank].”

According to a draft text of the proposal, Zionist principles, “as expressed in the Nation-State Law… will be guiding and crucial values” in all government decisions, “without diminishing from the values anchored in the Basic Laws.”

The decision’s explanatory supplement argues the government takes into account “various professional considerations” that sometimes “ignore basic Zionism values,” and that therefore the measure is needed.

“The following values express the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the Land of Israel, among then settlement, security, culture, and Aliyah, as has been recognized, among others, in the Balfour Declaration and the Declaration of Independence, and anchored in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” the text reads.

“The goal of the government decision is to instruct all officials and branches of the government, to give — as part of the considerations included when setting and implementing policy — meaningful consideration to Zionist values,” it adds.

An Israeli flag is seen in the E1 area of the West Bank on January 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the statement on Sunday’s vote, a source told the Haaretz daily the text is not yet ready.

“Wasserlauf and Ben Gvir are trying to determine facts on the grounds and create support for the move in the media,” the source added.

The Nation-State Law was passed in 2018 as a Basic Law, a type of protected, quasi-constitutional piece of legislation. Proponents say the law puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics argue that the law contravenes the basis of Israel’s legal system, as well as its Declaration of Independence, and solidifies inequality among its citizens.

The passage of the law particularly infuriated the Druze community, whose members serve in the Israeli army and view the law’s provisions as making them second-class citizens.

A particular point of objection was the legislation’s lack of mention of equality, which is not explicitly stated in any of the Basic Laws, though judges have interpreted “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” to include it.

Activists and members of the Druze community protest against the nation-state law, outside the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Wasserlauf’s measure — if approved — is expected to face legal challenges, with the Ynet news site quoting judicial sources who noted the High Court of Justice rejected petitions against the law on the grounds that it does not conflict with Israel’s democratic character.

The Nation-State Law for the first time enshrined Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Article seven of the law says that “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

Another clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulated that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

It also declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, set the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognized Independence Day, days of remembrance, and Jewish holidays.

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