Gantz's Party Members Vote Against Adding Right to Equality to Controversial Nation-State Law

Kahol Lavan says working on its own wording to soften law which gives right to national self-determination only to Jews, after leader Benny Gantz misses vote and five of its lawmakers vote against proposed amendment

Jonathan Lis
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From left, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 29, 2020.
From left, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 29, 2020.Credit: Adina Waldman / Spokesperson's Office
Jonathan Lis

Members of Kahol Lavan voted against an amendment that sought to add the right to equality to the controversial Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People on Wednesday.

The proposal, tabled by lawmaker Gadeer Mreeh, who quit Kahol Lavan for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid when Benny Gantz’s faction decided to join Likud in a coalition government, failed, with 21 voting in favor and 53 voting against it.

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The Nation-State Law, or, in full, the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, was passed in 2018 and formally defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The proposed amendment would have explicitly added the right to equality to the law, given Arabic the status of a second official language, and expanded the part of the law about the development of Jewish settlement to apply to all residents.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the chairman of Kahol Lavan – who pledged during the party’s election campaign to soften the Nation-State Law – missed the vote, as did several other members of Kahol Lavan.

Five Kahol Lavan lawmakers – Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Eitan Ginzberg, Michael Cotler-Wunsh, Tehila Friedman-Nachalon, and Hila Shay Vazan – voted against the amendment.

Zvi Hauser, head of Derech Eretz, another splinter faction of the alliance Benny Gantz led during Israel’s 2019—2020 election cycles, and one of the lawmakers who spearheaded the law, also opposed the amendment.

Kahol Lavan said Wednesday that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn was working to create an initiative to soften the law on behalf of the party.

Many members of the Joint List were also absent from the vote, including Chairman Ayman Odeh and lawmaker Ahmad Tibi.

“The Nation-State Law is the State of Israel’s identification card and will be the opening chapter of the future constitution,” Mreeh told lawmakers. “The Nation-State Law ignores a quarter of the country’s citizens, I among them. It’s unethical and undemocratic.” She added that she did not wish “to threaten or disturb the country’s character as a Jewish state. Not that, or its Judaism or its symbols. I am trying to protect the most important and basic value – equality.”

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, right, and Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 29, 2020.
Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, right, and Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 29, 2020.Credit: Adina Waldman / Spokesperson's Office

Kahol Lavan officials said Wednesday that they were opposed to the wording Mreeh suggested and that the party was coming up with its own version. “Just like us, members of Yesh Atid also said this week that the right way to correct the problems arising from the Nation-State Law is through a separate basic law that ensures the principle of equality,” the party said.

"Justice Minister Nissenkorn has been laboring over this issue for a number of weeks, and together with high-level jurists and other lawmakers from the faction, is formulating a solution for this important subject.”

Likud lawmaker Amsalem, who is the Knesset-cabinet liaison and responded in its name to Mreeh, told her: “You have individual rights just like me. But in the State of Israel, there is one nation, and it is the Jewish nation. This is more of a declarative question. In practice, it doesn’t have significance in daily conduct.”

 “There is the Law of Return in Israel. I think no other country in the world that has a law of return,” Amsalem added. “What is the trigger for the Nation-State Law? Because the left can nullify the Law of Return, and so we legislated the Nation-State Law especially. This is the nation of the Jews and we are proud of it. So it will remain.”

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