Editorial

Bennett vs. Vox Populi

Bennett’s proposal gives the Israeli public a look at the kind of laws that will become increasingly necessary as Israel moves further down the path toward becoming a binational state

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at Haaretz's Israel Conference on Peace. June 12, 2017
Education Minister Naftali Bennett at Haaretz's Israel Conference on Peace. June 12, 2017 Olivier Fitoussi

It was none other than Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett who threatened to bring down the government four years ago over the Basic Law on a Referendum, for which he fought fiercely. “If most of the people are with you, what are you afraid of?” he asked. But it seems the party that actually fears “the will of the people” is Habayit Hayehudi.

The Basic Law on a Referendum states that any agreement that involves ceding sovereign Israeli territory, or any unilateral withdrawal from such territory, would, after first being approved by at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members, also have to be approved by a referendum, unless it passed the Knesset with a majority of at least 80 MKs.

Now, via an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, Habayit Hayehudi seeks in effect to make Jerusalem an exception to the Basic Law on a Referendum. This amendment would require a supermajority of 80 MKs to approve the division of Jerusalem.

The party is frightened by the fact that there is already a majority of 61 MKs who would agree to divide Jerusalem as part of an agreement between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors — and, even worse, by the fact that a majority of Israelis favor doing so.

Habayit Hayehudi lawmakers are particularly afraid of Israel’s Arab citizens. “A situation could arise in which a Jewish minority supporting the division of the city joins Israeli Arabs and votes for dividing Jerusalem,” a senior figure in the party explained. He added that the current Knesset has “62 MKs, Jewish and Arab, who would support such a proposal.”

The party’s fear is that if a referendum were held, Arab Israelis “would go the polls in droves” to vote, and the decision approved by a majority of the Knesset and acceptable to a majority of Israelis would therefore pass. By making an exception of Jerusalem, such that 80 MKs would have to approve its division, Habayit Hayehudi hopes to effectively eliminate the utility of such a referendum.

This proposal raises an issue of principle: Why should such a severe restriction on changing the state’s borders in Jerusalem through a negotiated agreement be included among the fundamental principles of Israeli democracy? After all, the political debate in Israel largely revolves around where the state’s borders should run, and therefore, it ought to take place on a level playing field. Moreover, political agreements are clearly within the government’s purview.

Bennett’s proposal gives the Israeli public a look at the kind of laws that will become increasingly necessary as Israel moves further down the path toward becoming a binational state. The more the Jewish public fears becoming a minority in this country, the more it will need legislation that disregards the real majority, until Israeli democracy collapses. Therefore, anyone who values democracy must oppose the amendment proposed by Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party.