A bill that would give preference in jobs, salary conditions and housing to people who served in the army, effectively putting Arabs and Haredim at a disadvantage, was approved on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
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The proposed law, sponsored by coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud), states: "Granting preference to someone because he contributed to the state, including preference in employment, salary conditions, obtaining and ordering service, will not be considered illegal discrimination."
The bill was overruled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the previous Knesset term after two legal opinions warned that it would be unconstitutional.
All the ministers from Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and Habayit Hayehudi supported the draft law, which was opposed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid).
If the bill becomes legislation, it will permit Civil Service jobs to be given preferentially to those who served in the army or did national service, effectively foiling the chances of integrating Arabs or ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Civil Service. The law is also expected to grant those who do military or national service preference in student housing, institutions of higher learning and allocation of land for housing.
However, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Sunday evening that there are legal obstacles facing the bill. "The bill infringes on the right of equality, which is at the root of the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom," Weinstein said in a statement.
A few hours after the bill was approved, committee chairwoman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni announced that she would appeal the decision. Such a move will prevent the bill from moving up to a vote in the Knesset without being debated again by the ministerial committee.
Both Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Knesset Legal Adviser attorney Eyal Yinon warned the government last term that the proposal contained constitutional flaws, including discrimination against groups who are legally exempt from service, and undermining the Basic Law on Freedom of Occupation and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.
"The ministers have legalized racism and discrimination. Netanyahu's present government is continuing the trend of its predecessor and promoting racist laws that exclude minorities and weaker populations," said Meretz leader Zehava Galon, after the law was approved in the committee. "On the one hand the government claims that it intends to increase the participation of Arabs and Haredim in the job market, but on the other hand it passes laws designed to continue to exclude them," said Galon, who called on the justice minister to submit an appeal against the passage of the law.
"I support remuneration for those who served in their army for their military service, but this law does not represent affirmative action," continued Galon. "It legalizes criminal discrimination against weaker groups in society, who are exempted by law from military service. Those who complete compulsory army service are part of a heterogeneous group, not a group that is excluded and discriminated against, and as such they are in no need of affirmative action."
Another bill that was supposed to be discussed in the committee is a proposal that would for the first time legalize a partnership union for same-sex couples. But Justice Minister Livni declared that, at the request of the prime minister and other factions, the law would not be put to a vote. Instead, Livni would lead efforts to reach a consensus on the wording of the bill.
"The distress of hundreds of thousands of citizens who cannot marry in Israel and enjoy the rights of a married couple cries out for a solution, and we are determined to achieve it for them. In this government there is an opportunity and a majority for bringing about the desired change," said Livni.