Jewish Identity Bill Returns to Knesset |

Lawmakers to Debate Proposal Giving Jews 'Unique' Right to Self-determination in Israel

MK Yariv Levin submits extreme version of existing proposal that would give courts the right to prioritize Jewish identity over democracy in rulings that address issues of religion and state.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

An Israeli lawmaker on Monday submitted a highly controversial proposal that would make Judaism superior to democracy in the State of Israel, amending a previous bill that was tossed by the Knesset before the last general election.

Coalition Chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) presented his formulation for a new Israeli basic law, one that obligates the courts to prioritize the state's Jewish identity in rulings that address issues of religion and state.

This new proposal comes after another potential law, proferred by MK Avi Dichter (Kadima), was blocked and ultimately stricken from the agenda.

Levin decided to revive Dichter's proposal, but has added to it a number of highly controversial provisions. Levin’s formulation grants - for the first time - legal status to the term “the land of Israel” and the (exclusive) Jewish affinity to it.

“The land of Israel is the historical birthplace of the Jewish people and the place of the establishment of the State of Israel,” the proposal states. No other nationalities or religions are mentioned in this context, which continues, “The right to realize national self-definition in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people."

Levin’s law establishes Hebrew as the only official language in the state but allows the Knesset to grant a secondary status to other languages, including Arabic or English. Another provision, copied over from Dichter's proposed law, obligates the state to build Jewish communities in its territories, with resources allocated specifically for this purpose. As for communities for non-Jews, the state will have the power to grant approval for their construction.

Nevertheless, the proposal contains democratic language as well. The proposal also makes it clear that “every resident of Israel, regardless of religion or nationality, is permitted to act to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity.”

In explaining his proposal, Levin wrote, "Despite the widespread agreement among the public in Israel concerning the definition of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, the characteristics of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people have never been anchored in the country’s basic laws … The proposed law emphasizes the traditional and historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel and the national rights granted to it as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.”

In recent months, lawmakers from the Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid parties have been trying to formulate a proposed law of their own on the issue. While they haven't yet succeeded, both parties have said that the language of their proposal will be significantly softer than Dichter's and that the law will be based on the values of Israel's declaration of independence.

Israeli flag on a hill near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, near Bethlehem.Credit: Reuters

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