Jewish Home threatens to block Jewish state bill — report

Nationalist party said to demand clause on the priority of Jewish jurisprudence be reinstated to proposal

Nissan Slomiansky (r), head of the Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the Knesset on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Nissan Slomiansky (r), head of the Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the Knesset on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to push ahead with a controversial bill enshrining Israel’s Jewish character in law hit a roadblock Monday, as the Jewish Home party announced it will vote against the measure, unless a contested clause is reinstated, Hebrew media reported.

The so-called Jewish state bill, which would enshrine the state’s Jewish character in the country’s constitutional Basic Laws, passed its first reading in the Knesset in May.

The controversial clause, which asserts the primacy of Jewish jurisprudence, was removed from the draft legislation at the request of Yisrael Beytenu and other coalition parties, and was not included in the version of the bill that passed its first reading.

The provision instructs the justice system to prefer Israel’s Jewish character to its democratic one, in cases where the two are at odds.

Jewish Home’s Nissim Smoliansky said it was inconceivable that the clause not be included in the bill.

“The Likud heads promised it would be put into the Jewish state bill,” he said according to a Walla news site report. “Did Likud decide to abandon Jewish jurisprudence?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an American Independence Day celebration Airport City, on July 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The government needs a majority of 61 Knesset votes to pass the legislation. A decision by Jewish Home’s eight lawmakers to oppose the bill would almost certainly sink it.

While that clause was not in the latest draft of the proposed law, several other contentious clauses were included.

According to the proposed bill, it will be legal to build towns solely for Jews, or any other religious or ethnic group, a provision that was opposed by State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit.

Acting against its legal adviser, the Likud party said it would not take out that part of the legislation, Walla news reported.

The latest version of the law also states that Hebrew is the official language of Israel. It leaves the status of Arabic in government institutions to be decided in a future law.

The bill, proposed by Likud MK Avi Dichter, would declare Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” setting its Jewish character in law for the first time.

The bill would enshrine as Basic Law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in its homeland. It declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and makes explicit the connection between Diaspora Jewry and the state. It also fixes the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state and recognizes Independence Day, Days of Remembrance and Jewish holidays in the Basic Law.

Critics have said that the bill is discriminatory to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations.

The bill was first put forward by Dichter in 2014, but, facing criticism from both opposition members and liberal-minded members of his own Likud 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.

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.

Although the bill passed its first reading 64-50, there reportedly remain many unresolved issues among coalition partners.

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