Kadima Lawmakers Retract Support for Bill Scrapping Arabic as Official Language in Israel

The bill would have made democratic rule subservient to the state's definition as "the national home for the Jewish people."

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A number of Kadima lawmakers say they are reconsidering the bill they submitted on Wednesday calling for a new Basic Law that changes Israel's definition as a "Jewish and democratic state" to "the national home for the Jewish people." The bill also proposes that Hebrew be the country's only official language, removing Arabic from the list.

On thursday speaker Reuven Rivlin gathered the Arab Knesset members for the traditional Iftar feast in the Knesset cafeteria, where he summed up the parliament's closing summer session as stormy and controversial.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with members of Knesset during the debate on the NGO funding bill.Credit: Emil Salman

A day earlier, 40 lawmakers, including 20 from the opposition Kadima party, submitted the bill, which would make democratic rule subservient to the state's definition as "the national home for the Jewish people."

On Thursday MK Doron Avital (Kadima ) removed his signature from the proposal. MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ) said he would remove his unless several clauses he objects to are deleted.

MK Avi Dichter (Kadima ), who helped draft the bill, said that "with the Basic Law we can finally denote Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and not need the Palestinians' favors and recognition of us as a Jewish state." According to Dichter, the law "will enable us to deal with the aspirations of radicals from both sides of the political spectrum to establish a binational state here."

As for the Arab language's status, Dichter said "the bill fixes an existing situation. The official languages in Israel were determined by the British in 1922 - French, Arabic and Hebrew, in that order. Hebrew is defined as superior to Arabic and as the state's official language. If Arabic were official, Israel would define itself as a bilingual state and every restaurant or newspaper would have to provide an Arabic version as well."

The bill was sponsored by Dichter, Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ).

The Knesset recently rejected two proposals by lawmakers from Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud to set up parliamentary committees to probe human rights groups, but it passed the Boycott Law, sponsored by Elkin, imposing sanctions on any person, organization or company calling for a boycott on Israel and the settlements.

The Knesset also passed legislation binding migrant workers to a certain geographic area and occupation.

On a first reading, the Knesset passed a bill to prevent asylum seekers and refugees from entering Israel. Refugees and their children who enter Israel via the border with Egypt could be detained by up to three years, instead of 60 days as the law stipulates today. The bill would also penalize human rights groups that help or shelter asylum seekers.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that if the legislation passes it would continue the delegitimization process of human rights organizations.



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