Lawmakers to Debate Revised Controversial Bill Defining Israel as Nation-state of Jewish People

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Benny Begin, October 2016.
Benny Begin, October 2016.Credit: Lior Mizrahi

A revised version of a controversial draft law that would define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is to be discussed on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The body will decide whether the government will support the bill.

New to the latest iteration of the bill — and to Israel’s law books — is a clause guaranteeing equal rights to all its citizens.

The softened version of the bill was drafted by MK Benny Begin (Likud), the son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

In addition to the guarantee of equal rights, the updated proposal also states that Israel operates under a democratic form of government — a fact that is not mentioned in the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

The previous government failed in attempts to advance two separate versions of the nation-state bill. Habayit Hayehudi and the right wing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud party demanded that the bill subordinate Israel’s democratic character to its Jewish identity in such areas as Supreme Court rulings.

Another version, promoted by Netanyahu, simply stipulated that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, as part of his demand making Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish identity a precondition for resuming the peace negotiations.

Begin’s draft, which he says is based on the Declaration of Independence, is seen as the most moderate version and could solve the disagreement in the coalition.

The bill consists of two clauses. The first defines Israel as “the Jewish people’s nation-state, based on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace in the light of Israel’s prophets’ vision, and upholds equal rights for all its citizens.”

The second clause says “Israel is a democracy.”

Yesh Atid, currently an opposition party, said it would support this bill. MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu) said his party would object to any legislation that discriminates against Arab citizens or undermines the Supreme Court.

“Our party is not at all sure a nation-state law is necessary at this time. But we don’t oppose it categorically,” Folkman said. “If we’re convinced it’s required, we’re inclined to opt for Begin’s draft, which strengthens the Declaration of Independence principles and doesn’t harm the justice system or minority rights.”

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