The Danger of Legalizing Israel as a State of Jews

MKs and ministers who object to Dichter's bill must make an extraordinary effort to battle the bill entitled 'Basic Law: Israel - the Nation-State of the Jewish People' using all legitimate means.

On Sunday, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon made it clear to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and his deputy, MK Mohammed Barakeh, that there were no grounds for blocking a bill entitled "Basic Law: Israel - the Nation-State of the Jewish People" from being submitted to the Knesset. Rather, he said, there should be both a public and parliamentary debate on the bill because of the broad implications it had for Israel's constitutional status.

In response, Rivlin announced that he would not conduct any further debate on the issue in the Knesset Presidium, claiming that the bill does not contravene the essential definition of Israel as a democratic country. He did, however, express his objections to the bill, which states that Israel's democratic regime would be subordinate to the state's Jewish identity, and which drops Arabic as an official language.

Both Jewish and Arab MKs from the left-wing parties, as well as other public figures, have expressed deep concern about the bill, sponsored by MK Avi Dichter (Kadima ), which, in practice, does away with the State of Israel's constitutional foundation. They argue, justifiably, that the bill contravenes the Declaration of Independence and its principles, and threatens the delicate balance between the state's national identity and its democratic and civil character.

The bill is making MKs in Dichter's own faction uncomfortable, with party chairman Tzipi Livni expressing her vehement opposition to it. Several Likud lawmakers and government ministers are also upset by the initiative, and certainly by the bill's wording.

But mouthing objections isn't enough. The bill may very well meet the technical requirements for submission to the Knesset, but it is a very risky venture. If it passes, it would be a watershed for Israeli democracy. It is liable to totally breach the dividing line between the principles of a democratic regime and the categorical, indisputable preference for the Jewish majority that will only deepen the growing distrust that Arab citizens have for the state.

MKs and ministers who object to Dichter's bill must therefore make an extraordinary effort to battle it using all legitimate means. It will be an important test for Livni, and for the entire legislature.