Finance minister says ‘hastily’ passed nation-state law is mistake, needs fixing

Moshe Kahlon is second cabinet minister to address the anger of the Druze minority, who feel legislation betrayed them despite their service to the state

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Thursday that a recently passed controversial law defining Israel as the Jewish nation-state was a mistake that needs to be corrected, as was another law denying gay men from the right to use surrogacy to father children.

He became the second minister in as many days to suggest tailoring the nation-state law in order to maintain equal rights for Israel’s Druze community, which has condemned the legislation.

Kahlon spoke to Army Radio ahead of a planned meeting later in the day hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will look at altering the Jewish nation-state law due to the Druze outcry.

“The legislation was done hastily,” Kahlon said of the bill, passed last week, which his Kulanu party, as a member of the coalition, voted in favor of. “We made a mistake and we need to fix it.”

The nation-state law, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.

The Druze, a breakaway sect from Islam, are the only minority that has taken upon itself Israel’s mandatory draft and serves in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF’s most elite units.

Kahlon indicated that commitments to coalition agreements played a significant role in gaining support for the bill, rather than ideology.

The minister added that a Druze lawmaker from Kulanu, who joined two other Druze MKs and community leaders in filing a High Court of Justice petition against the law, was acting on his own accord.

Kulanu parliament member Akram Hasson during his swearing-in as a member of the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 1, 2016. (Issac Harari/Flash90)

Kahlon said that MK Akram Hasson told him of his plans to contest the law, and that the minister gave him his blessing to act as he felt best.

Hasson, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara — the sole Druze minister in the cabinet — and Yisrael Beytenu party MK Hamad Amar were all to participate in the meeting with Netanyahu, Kahlon said.

MK Benny Begin, of the ruling Likud party, on Thursday urged that the existing legislation should not be canceled but rather amended to stipulate that all Israeli citizens have full equal rights, the Kan broadcaster reported.

Likud MK Benny Begin during a Foreign Affairs and Security Committee at the Knesset, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu will not consider amending the law, however, Hebrew media sources reported. Even so, Netanyahu was open to “other moves aimed at improving conditions for the Druze,” according to the reports.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, one of the bill’s original sponsors and a Netanyahu confidant, rejected Kahlon’s statement.

“I don’t think we made a mistake,” Elkin said, according to the Israel Hayom daily. “The law is correct, and the text is correct and reached a balance. In the end, everyone agreed to it, and it returned sanity to the country that we can proudly say that we are a Jewish state. The law doesn’t impact the individual rights of anyone.”

On Wednesday Education Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to work to “heal the wound” the law has inflicted on the Druze community. Sources close to Bennett told The Times of Israel that the Jewish Home leader was open to amending the nation-state law.

In addition to changing the nation-state law, Kahlon said Thursday, he was working with Kulanu MK Merav Ben Ari to change another controversial law passed last week which expanded surrogacy regulations, but excluded gay men from access to surrogate parenthood. “We understood there is a problem,” Kahlon said.

There was a wide outcry against the surrogacy law along with a one-day strike called by the LGBT community on Sunday and a mass protest in Tel Aviv the night before attended by some 100,000 people.

Noting that government stability is being challenged with several contentious items of legislation, among them the nation-state law, gay surrogacy rights, and military service for members of the ultra-Orthodox, Kahlon told Army Radio he expects there to be early elections called in February or March of next year instead of at the end of the year.

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