search

‘Jewish state’ bill faces harsh criticism in and out of coalition

Members of Netanyahu’s cabinet who voted against the contentious legislation accuse the PM of cynical politicking

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A piece of paper in front of Finance Minister Yair Lapid during the weekly cabinet meeting reads, in handwritten Hebrew, 'National State Law,' Sunday, November 23, 2014. (photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
A piece of paper in front of Finance Minister Yair Lapid during the weekly cabinet meeting reads, in handwritten Hebrew, 'National State Law,' Sunday, November 23, 2014. (photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

The controversial “Jewish state” bill, which aims to enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state, was attacked by its opponents Sunday — including members of the ruling coalition — after the ministers approved the bill 14-6 during a cabinet meeting.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), who voted against the bill, had a heated argument with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the meeting and even suggested that the bill was merely a political maneuver aimed at breaking apart the coalition.

“Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room,” she said. “You want us to vote against it so that you can fire us,” she said to Netanyahu.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid spoke out against the proposed legislation.

“Israel is also a democratic state; therefore the Jewish state bill that was presented to the cabinet today is a terrible law,” he said. “Instead of a national law that unites the people, they are struggling to approve a law that will tear it apart and divide it.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid on September 7, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid on September 7, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill would enshrine in law Israel’s Jewishness, reserving what the prime minister called “national rights,” such as the flag and anthem and right to immigrate, for Jews alone. It would also underline Israel’s democratic nature with equality for all its citizens, according to Netanyahu.

Science Minister Yaakov Peri of Lapid’s Yest Atid party said that the bill reminded him “of the countries that took upon themselves Shariah law.”

Opposition to the bill also came from within Netanyahu’s own Likud party with Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat reportedly expressing her disapproval of the law. She did not attend the cabinet vote.

The bill comes amid rumors that leading politicians, including Netanyahu himself, are preparing for the possibility of early elections.

Opposition head MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) criticized Netanyahu for approving the bill at a time when  tensions between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have fueled violent clashes.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a party meeting in the Israeli parliament, July 28, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a party meeting in the Israeli parliament, July 28, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

“Raising the topic at such a politically and diplomatically fraught time is irresponsible, unnecessary, and is likely to fan the flames that are engulfing the area,” he said. “Only a prime minister who is lacking confidence, who has no vision, and no plan, needs laws that obviously won’t improve the lives of the citizens.”

MK Zahava Gal-on, leader of the left-wing Meretz faction, echoed Herzog’s condemnation of the timing of the bill as well as its content.

“This is a law that has a black flag flying over it,” she said, invoking an Israeli military term indicating an order that is patently illegal and should thus be refused. “Netanyahu and all of his extreme right-wing coalition members are partners in a crime against Israeli democracy, and will be responsible for one of the blackest stains in Israel’s law books.”

Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On. December 25, 2013. (Photo credit: Flash 90)
Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On. December 25, 2013. (Photo credit: Flash 90)

Gal-on criticized the ministers for backing a bill which, she said, discriminates against Israel’s Arab population, after last week politicians from across the spectrum sharply opposed a move by the mayor of Ashkelon to stop employing Arab construction workers in the wake of a deadly terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue.

“There is nothing clever in condemning the decision by the mayor of Ashkelon to not employ Arabs and then enshrining in law discrimination against them,” she said.

On the other side of the aisle, MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), one of the sponsors of the bill, welcomed the cabinet’s approval.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) in the Israeli parliament on January 15, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) in the Knesset, January 15, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

“Those who oppose it by saying that it is a dangerous law are really a dangerous voice against the future of Israel,” she said. “The formula that was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a good basis for the law.”

A tweaked version of the bill, prepared by Netanyahu and aimed at garnering the broadest possible approval from Knesset members, will be brought to a plenum vote on Wednesday.

MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), another sponsor of the bill, derided those who opposed it while supporting the establishment of Palestinian state.

“The maneuvers and attempts by those who want to establish a Palestinian nation-state but are not prepared to define the State of Israel as a Jewish nation-state won’t do any good, and a clear majority of the government and the people insist that the Jewish state bill be approved and be entered into the law books,” he said.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed