Israeli Lawmakers Vote on Flurry of Contentious Bills as Knesset Dissolution Nears

One of two bills that passed preliminary vote would demand a referendum for each eviction of a West Bank settlement, and a second would enshrine equality into law, neutralizing the Nation-State Law

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benjamin Netanyahu and Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi speak during a Knesset meeting, December 9, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi speak during a Knesset meeting, December 9, 2020.Credit: Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset approved on Wednesday in a preliminary vote two bills – one on making equality part of Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and the other on making a referendum a condition for evacuating any West Bank settlements.

Both could have far-reaching implications if written into law, but are unlikely to pass the three remaining votes, and are largely seen as a declarative move as lawmakers prepare for a potential election.

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Fifty-three lawmakers voted in favor of the referendum bill, while 42 opposed it. The bill was initiated by lawmaker Zvi Hauser of the Derech Eretz faction, and says that a referendum is "the optimal tool in solving deep divisions and making decisions that might create rifts and chasms in Israeli society."

Under Israeli law, a referendum is required only on handing over sovereign territory, like parts of Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. If the current bill passes, a referendum would be required for any eviction of a settlement initiated by the state.  

Likud Minister Zeev Elkin urged left-wing lawmakers to support the bill, saying that it gives the people a voice in deciding on a crucial issue. Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, meanwhile, protested, saying that legalizing settlement outposts has never gone to a referendum, and that perhaps all the region's residents, Jews and Arabs alike, should have a say. 

Lawmaker Zvi Hauser, who initiated the bill to hold a referendum to evict settlements, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 2020. Credit: Adina Walman / Knesset Spokesperson

"The voice of the people whose fate we control hasn't been heard for a long time on issues concerning their destiny. This bill is not only condescending and patronizing, it's also illegal," Zandberg said.    

The second bill that passed in a preliminary hearing, which would enshrine equality for all in Israeli law, would neutralize the Nation-State Law, which defines Israel as a state of the Jewish people. It was advanced by Kahol Lavan.

The Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty doesn’t explicitly protect the right to equality, although courts over the years have ruled that the principle of equality is automatically derived from the protection of human dignity in a basic law.

The party was forced to withdraw the bill last week just before a vote, fearing it wouldn’t have a majority after Hauser, one of the initiators of the nation-state law and a member of the Kahol Lavan voting bloc, said he wouldn’t support it.

Hauser voted against the bill; he said he was concerned that Israel's Arabs would use it to demand national equality, rather than just civil equality. Kahol Lavan clarified over the course of the week that they intend to correct the bill's wording to unequivocally define that it refers to civil equality alone.

Benny Gantz at the Knesset, December 9, 2020.Credit: Dani Shem Tov/Knesset Spokesperson

Elkin attacked the law, claiming that it would prepare the ground for overthrowing the State of Israel and establishing a binational state. Kahol Lavan MK and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn slammed Elkin and his coalition partner Hauser, saying that the bill refers to civil rather than national equality, and that attempts to read it otherwise are an act of deception. "Only the State of Israel, Likud and Hauser are voting against equality and for racism," he said.       

A bill that would have allowed ending discrimination against same-sex couples in adoption rights failed to pass a preliminary vote on Wednesday, despite gaining the support of Kahol Lavan.

Forty-three lawmakers backed the bill while 26 voted against it. Since the Ministerial Committee for Legislation did not back the initiative, all coalition members were obligated to oppose it, but many Likud lawmakers chose not to attend the vote.

The bill, crafted by lawmaker Merav Michaeli of Labor, calls to revoke the law stating that only a "man and a woman" are entitled to adopt a child, and enshrine into law that every person qualifies for adoption.  

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