Bennett Urges 'Zero Tolerance' for Israeli Arabs' National Aspirations

Economy minister speaks at Kohelet Policy Forum conference, which aims to secure in law the concept of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People.

Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger

Israel should have zero tolerance for the national aspirations of Israeli Arabs, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) said on Sunday. The minister added that Judaization of the Galilee and Negev are entirely in line with Israel's values.

Bennett was speaking at a conference of the the Kohelet Policy Forum, which aims to secure the future of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People. He was one of five ministers who attended the conference, which was entitled "Israel's identity as the Jewish nation state, as a matter of law."

Speaking at the same conference, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said "My definition is Israel as a Jewish state, which is completely equal for all of its citizens."

Other ministers at the conference were Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), Education Minister Shay Piron (Yesh Atid) and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu).

The effort to have the concept of Israel as a Jewish State enshrined in one of the country's Basic Laws, which act as a de facto constitution in Israel, is being headed by former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser. Hauser and former Likud minister Michael Eitan, have taken it upon themselves to head a steering committee meant to promote public discourse on the issue, which they hope will lead to subsequent legislation, Israel Today newspaper reported.

"At a time when Israel is trying to get the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we should practice what we preach and do the same," Hauser said. "It is in poor taste to make such a demand of the Palestinians when Israel itself has yet to anchor the issue as a Basic Law."

"Naturally, such legislation would not infringe on anyone's civil or human rights, including the Arab sector," Hauser added. "As someone who once worked closely with the prime minister, I know he has made this issue one of the core issues of the peace talks."

Bennett stressed in his speech that "there is no contradiction between Jewishness and democracy. If that isn't recognized, the Palestinians will have a state-and-a-half and we will have half a state. Our Jewish identity is inherent in the Declaration of Independence." 

Bennett criticized his coalition partner Finance Minister Yair Lapid, saying "the Arab national dialogue is getting stronger, while here we are opposed to recognizing the country as the Jewish State. I regret that Lapid doesn't see that."

"We need to emphasize the Jewishness of the country," Bennett stressed. "No end of rights have been legislated in Israel, but nothing regarding the identity of the state. There are those here who dream of our being like Sweden, but we're not Sweden. Ever since Aharon Barak, the Supreme Court has been working diligently to change the balance and to deplete the country of all its Jewish content. There has been a civil revolution at the expense of Judaism, as in the Ka'adan case. The Jewish nature of the country has become obscene, because we haven't defined it as a legal objective."

Livni countered by saying that "we need to anchor the concept 'Jewish and democratic,' and set it in law. It is a mistake to deal only with Jewishness and not with democracy. We need to deal with both in parallel and not give legal primacy to Jewishness. Zionism referred to a national movement, not a religious one. Is the basis of our lives the rule of law or the rule of halakha?"

"There are those who proclaim the supremacy of Jewishness or of Eretz Yisrael on the people of Israel," Livni added. "I don't accept that. The decisive thing will be whether we are able to implement both characteristics equally. A Jewish majority in the land is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one."

"What was taken for granted in 1948 is not taken for granted today. Our being the national country of the Jewish people doesn't depend on what others say. But it's important to state that every country has its own national expression. We are not talking about a border dispute only, but about a national dispute, It will be very difficult to get global support if we stress Jewish primacy over equality."

While the notion of legalizing the concept of "Israel as a Jewish state" has been explored in the past, it has never been presented to the Knesset in the form of a government bill, which would require the coalition's backing before being presented to a plenum vote.

In the absence of a constitution, the Basic Laws of Israel are meant to regulate key issues pertaining to the formation and role of principal state institutions, the relations between various state authorities and the decision-making process of the governing bodies.

The similarities between the various proposals have prompted Livni to task Professor Ruth Gavison, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to review the issue and formulate her recommendations accordingly. Gavison, a senior fellow emeritus at the Israel Democracy Institute, was a founding member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and is currently a member of the International Commission of Jurists.

Naftali Bennett speaking at the Knesset.Credit: Emil Salman

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