PM praises controversial Jewish nation-state bill, says it will pass this week

PM praises controversial Jewish nation-state bill, says it will pass this week

Netanyahu calls proposal 'a law of the highest importance'; coalition chair plans final votes for Wednesday, despite ongoing disagreements

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting the Knesset, July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting the Knesset, July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the controversial Jewish nation-state bill will pass into law in the next few days, calling the legislation “a law of the highest importance.”

“If not in the next few hours, we will pass this law in the next few days,” Netanyahu told a Likud faction meeting in a nod to ongoing disagreements over the bill.

“This is a law of the highest importance to ensure the core of Israel’s existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he said.

A special committee established to deal with the proposal was reconvening Monday evening to continue work on finalizing the bill for its second and third plenary readings. MKs are expected to approve removing a controversial clause sanctioning housing discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion.

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

The current language of clause 7B of the Likud-sponsored legislation would allow the state to “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community.”

But on Sunday, Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett reached an agreement to cut the clause from the bill, and replace it with a new one celebrating “Jewish settlement” in Israel in general terms.

“The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation,” Bennett said the new version of the clause would read.

But in a fresh challenge for the law’s backers, the coalition’s United Torah Judaism has raised concerns over language in the bill calling for Israel to reach out to “all members of the Jewish people,” which they claim could be interpreted as a tacit acceptance of progressive Jews.

Speaking in the plenary Sunday afternoon, UTJ’s MK Uri Maklev said his party will “fight until the end” against any potential recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism.

Despite the potential pitfalls, coalition chairman David Amsalem is convinced that bill will pass before the Knesset goes on summer recess, at the end of the week.

Speaking to reporters after the Likud faction meeting, Amsalem said he believes “all the coalition parties will fall in line” over the bill, and it will come to a final vote on Wednesday.

Opposition parties, as well as President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit have all expressed misgivings over the bill.

Barricades erected at the entrance to the city of Bnei Brak to keep from entering on Shabbat, January 27, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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

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.

In addition, the law would also set Hebrew as the official language of Israel. Arabic would be relegated from an official language to one with “special status,” which would ensure its speakers the “right to accessible state services.”

The law would also declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, make explicit the connection between Diaspora Jewry and the state, fix the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognize Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays.

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