Breaking Ranks, Livni, Lapid Say They Won't Support Jewish Nation-state Bill

Ministers could lose jobs over continued opposition, as controversial bill draws criticism from AG, Israeli left and human rights groups.

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Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Nov. 20, 2014.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Nov. 20, 2014.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Reactions decrying the cabinet’s approval of a bill that would enshrine in law Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people came fast and furious after the ministers’ vote.

The bill that passed was a combination of two bills, one proposed by Knesset members Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin, and the other by MK Zeev Elkin. The bill, which includes tough wording that both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid ministers oppose, will be incorporated into another version Netanyahu plans to present later this week.

MKs Zahava Gal-On (C), Stav Shaffir (L) and Moshe Gafni (R) in the Knesset, Nov. 10, 2014.Credit: Michal Fattal

Fourteen ministers supported the bill in Sunday's vote, while six opposed it – the five Yesh Atid ministers and Livni.

"Yesh Atid and I are for a nation-state bill, just not this nation-state bill," said Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. "The bill submitted today to the government puts a Jewish state before democracy. Ben-Gurion would not approve this bill. Begin and Jabotinsky would not approve it. It is an anti-democratic bill. Neither I nor Yesh Atid will vote on Wednesday for the nation-state bill as it was submitted."

Livni said that she and Lapid made it clear they do not intend to support the bills, even though the government decision on Sunday obliges them to do so. If they oppose the bills, Netanyahu is liable to dismiss them because it would be expressing a lack of confidence in a government decision to which they belong.

Will they vote against the coalition and risk being sacked? Will they decide not to show up for the vote? It remains unclear. Livni herself refused to say how she will vote.

"I will not lend a hand to this bill. I will not vote for it," she told Channel 2 News on Sunday. "I am thinking of voting against. I certainly won't let the proposal pass as long as it depends on me," she added. "I won't allow the bill to pass while I am in the bathroom."

The coalition factions stressed Sunday night that discussions regarding a compromise had yet to bring any results. Likud officials said they would seriously consider pushing through a compromise with Yesh Atid and Hatnuah. They did not rule out postponing the scheduled vote on Wednesday.

"We don't want to blow up the coalition, but they are not prepared to negotiate with us," said a senior Likud official. According to him, "There is no concrete talk right now, but it's important to make it clear that we are not looking for an excuse to fire either Lapid or Livni."

'Crime against Israeli democracy'

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partners are committing a “crime against Israeli democracy, and will be responsible for one of the blackest stains on Israeli law.”

Gal-On said that even a tamer version of the bill being proposed by Netanyahu undermines the principle of equality and turns Israel's Arab population into second-class citizens.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned about the bill's potentailly deleterious effects. "Certain aspects of the proposals in the bill would substantially change the principle of constitutional law as anchored in the Proclamation of Independence and the Basic Laws of the Knesset," he said on Sunday. The attorney general added these facets of the bill would lead to deterioration in the "democratic character of the state."

The Israel Democracy Institute said “the version of the nation-state bill approved today is bad for everyone who holds the State of Israel dear. The MKs must come to their senses and scrap this bill even before it comes to the Knesset on Wednesday. "This is a bill that tramples on the [state’s] democratic component, doesn’t allow true equal rights for the minorities who live among us and its real purpose is to dictate to the courts how to rule," read a statement issued by the IDI.

“The State of Israel is already the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the guiding principles for achieving this declaration are written in the declaration of independence.”

The IDI added that it supported the position of Prof. Ruth Gavison that “It would be better to legislate such a law only in the context of writing a constitution.”

Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, said, “The nation-state bill is evidence of a confused government that can’t even decide who is a Jew. It comes on top of the basic laws that already defined Israel as Jewish and dozens of laws that give excessive rights to Jews in Israel and throughout the world, while ignoring a fifth of the country’s citizens.

“This law is aimed at increasing the tension between Jews and Arabs. It won’t lower the cost of living, won’t reduce housing prices and won’t bring economic growth,” Farah added. “The Mossawa Center is calling for a Jewish-Arab civic response, and for the legislation of an ‘Arab minority in Israel’ law.”

MK Taleb Abu Arar (United Arab List-Ta’al) called the bill a racist law aimed at forcing Arabs out of Israel. “Any government could have approved the anti-Arab laws approved by the Netanyahu government, but previous governments had a broader view,” he said.

“Now the thinking of the ruling leadership is different; its aim is to [stay in power] by whitewashing its series of failures, by becoming more extreme against Arabs in general, and by scaring the public over security.

“The intifada in the occupied territories wasn’t stopped by the force Israel used, but by breakthroughs that occurred in the peace process,” Abu Arar added. “The solution to this wave [of violence] is equal rights and correcting the injustices caused to Arab society, not aggressive deterrence.”

Even Hamas had what to say about the bill, calling it a warning to the entire Arab world. “This is a warning sign and an alarm that must concern every Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim, and points to Israel’s plans for the entire region,” Hamas’ announcement said.

The statement added that the decision will lead to a religious war based on Israeli legends that the occupation tries to use to seize control of the region, steal its treasures and humiliate its people, “And we, with all the power of our people and the nations of the region, will aim for the failure of the Zionist project.”

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who voted for the bill, said it would also rescue south Tel Aviv from “infiltrators,” terminology referring to the many African asylum seekers who reside there.

“The next time a law meant to stop infiltrators is brought to the High Court of Justice, the court will also have to consider that Israel is the 'nation-state of the Jewish people' and not just 'human dignity and freedom.' This is an important message for the residents of south Tel Aviv and for the entire country.”

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