Israel's Governing Coalition to Advance Nation-state Bill That Subordinates Democracy to Judaism

Knesset will take a preliminary vote on a bill which would make Israel's democratic character secondary to its Jewish character

A general view shows the plenum of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 23, 2017.
RONEN ZVULUN / Reuters

The Knesset in three weeks will take a preliminary vote on the controversial nation-state bill, in which Israel’s democratic character is given second place to its Jewish character, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said on Sunday.

According to the wording of the bill, written by MK Avi Dichter (Likud), Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” which has “the right to realize its unique Jewish national self-definition in the State of Israel” and that the Arabic language will hold “special status” as opposed to being listed as one of the country’s official languages.

The coalition promised to allow the bill to advance to its preliminary reading, but then it is expected to undergo changes. A softened version of the bill, in which Israel’s democratic character would be given equal value to its Jewish character, and which is being advanced by MK Amir Ohana (Likud) in a special committee, will not be voted on by the Knesset.

Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu and some Haredi factions oppose the bill’s current wording. In October, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said, “I have great difficulty with the nation-state law. Instead of turning Israel into a Jewish state they’re trying to turn it into a halakhic state.” The coalition figures that the bill will not advance past the preliminary vote, to significant opposition to its present phrasing.

Meanwhile, the opposition will try to advance a bill forcing a prime minister charged with a crime that carries a punishment of over three years in prison to resign. The bill’s sponsor, Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union), suggested to members of the coalition’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation that the bill only take effect in the next Knesset, so that it had no bearing on legislation growing out of the criminal investigations against Netanyahu, a move intended to pave the way for the opposition bill’s passage.

Another bill, one that would allow deputy ministers to oversee ministries, will also be voted on. If the Knesset gives that bill majority support in its first vote, the pending legislation can be carried over to the Knesset’s next term, such that the legislative process would not have to begin from scratch.