PM says he wants to push controversial ‘Jewish state’ bill through Knesset
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PM says he wants to push controversial ‘Jewish state’ bill through Knesset

Netanyahu tells coalition heads he wants final vote on long-stalled law, which has been criticized as discriminatory to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 1, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 1, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

At a meeting of coalition heads Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly announced his intention to push the controversial “Jewish state” bill forward to become law before the end of the current Knesset session, with the final vote possibly to be held as early as next week.

The controversial bill, long in the works, that would enshrine the state’s Jewish character in the country’s constitutional Basic Laws passed its first reading in the Knesset in May. However, there were reports at the time that the coalition did not intend to bring it for its final votes due to a dispute with the Kulanu party and other coalition members.

Netanyahu said he wanted the bill passed in its current form, saying that it included compromises made to his coalition partners, Hebrew media reported.

Likud MK Avi Dichter’s Jewish State bill, for the first time in Israeli law, would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.” 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.

Head of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Avi Dichter leads a meeting at the Knesset, July 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

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

Kulanu leaders had reportedly demanded that the clause be excised, and that the Jewish and democratic values of the state share equal stature.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party also reportedly had serious concerns regarding the bill, and agreed to support it for its first reading with the understanding that it would be abandoned and not enacted as law.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu instructed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to meet with the coalition factions and hammer out a final wording of the bill that can be passed before the summer break.

The bill enshrines 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 will declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and make 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.

In another controversial clause, 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 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.

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