Dichter Replaces 'Jewish Identity' Bill With Equally Contentious Draft Law

Scrapped bill called for Jewish religious law to serve as inspiration for new legislation and the dropping of Arabic as an official language, granting it 'special status.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

On Monday, MK Avi Dichter (Kadima ) withdrew his controversial draft law that would subordinate democratic rule in Israel to the country's role as a Jewish state. In its place he proposed a more moderate bill, which was met with harsh criticism.

The scrapped bill had called for Jewish religious law to serve as inspiration for new legislation and for Arabic to be dropped as an official language of the state - albeit while granting it "special status." In addition, it required the state to actively pursue Jewish settlement of all areas and dropped any government obligation to build for other communities living in the state.

Avi Dichter during a tour of the south with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in August.Credit: Ilan Assayag

On Monday, Kadima, most of whose MKs signed off as sponsors of the original bill, forced Dichter to withdraw his draft law and imposed party discipline against the bill. After being criticized for allowing her party colleagues to introduce the proposal, Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni put all her political weight into thwarting it.

Had the bill gone to a vote in the Knesset plenum it might well have been passed: One-third of the Knesset's 120 members, including most Kadima and Labor MKs, signed the first rendition of what became known as Dichter's Law. Livni publicly announced her opposition to it a few weeks ago. In a rare move, the Knesset's legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, called for broad public and parliamentary debate on the bill, citing its broad implications for Israel's constitutional status.

After realizing that he could not bring the bill to a vote in its original form, Dichter introduced a toned-down iteration of his draft law, on Monday. The switch is expected to postpone the Knesset plenum vote by at least two months.

The new version still makes Israel's definition as a democracy subordinate to to its role as the state of the Jewish nation. But instead of clearly spelling this out, it features an opaquely worded paragraph that ostensibly folds the Declaration of Independence into the new Basic Law, in accordance with that document's explicit definition of Israel as the state of the Jewish nation.

In addition, the new bill describes Arabic as "a language of the state" rather than an official language, as it is today. Unlike Dichter's original draft law, it does not include the reference to Arabic's "special status." The new version also makes no mention of Jewish religious law serving as the legislature's inspiration.

After studying the new version of the bill, a former senior official in the Justice Ministry told Haaretz, "I really don't understand the changes that were made. Dichter left in the controversial clauses, which refer to changes to the balance of the character of the State of Israel and the subordination of democratic rule to the Jewish nation. He replaced his original proposal with one that is incomprehensible even on the level of its linguistic construction. It's a mishmash of ideas that might be even worse than the original wording."

An official from Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing Jewish-Arab coexistence, said that even if the new bill is not as bad as the original, it too "violates the delicate balance between the Jewish component and the democratic component of the definition of the state and gives clear priority to the Jewish component."



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