Livni Vows to Block Bill Making State Jewish First, Democratic Second

The legislation, which was included in the coalition agreement between Likud-Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, would change the balance between Israel's Jewish and democratic character.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni stated Tuesday she would act to prevent the passage of a controversial bill that would make the state's democratic character secondary to its Jewish character.

The coalition agreement signed Friday between Habayit Hayehudi and Likud-Beiteinu calls to push legistlation forward on the controversial bill.

"I already made it clear upon assuming my position that I will not lend a hand to those trying to tilt the balance," Livni said, referring to the balance between Israel's Jewish and democratic character. She was talking in response to MK Nachman Shai (Labor), who called on her to stop the proposal to approve the bill, just as she had vehemently opposed it when it was proposed by former Kadima MK Avi Dichter in the previous government.

Shai himself was one of the sponsors of the original bill, but his name was then withdrawn at a later date.

According to a previous version of the bill regarding Israel's character, whose legislation was halted in the last Knesset following a public outcry, the state would invest resources to promote Jewish settlement but not be similarly obligated to do so for other ethnic groups. Dichter, who initiated the bill at the time, presented it in two different versions. One stated that Arabic would no longer be considered an official language, but rather would merely have a "special status." The other version presented that clause in softer wording.

Senior officials of Habayit Hayehudi did not know which of the versions presented to the previous Knesset would be brought before the new one, but they said they believed the clause about Arabic would not be included in it.

Dichter's bill was stopped by then-Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni after her party was harshly criticized for it. However, now Livni is part of the government obliged by dint of coalition agreements to advance the bill. Livni, as justice minister and head of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, will have a major say in whether the bill moves ahead. A senior figure in the Knesset said yesterday that the law is unlikely to pass because the ultra-Orthodox parties are not in the current coalition.

Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni.Credit: Nir Kafri

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