Gantz's Party Mulls Altering ‘Equality Bill,' Preventing National Self-determination of non-Jews

The equality bill was one of Benny Gantz’s campaign promises to Israel’s Arabs following to the passage of the controversial nation-state law

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 15, 2020.
Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 15, 2020.Credit: Adina Velman/Knesset
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel's governing coalition partner Kahol Lavan is weighing whether to modify wording in a bill enshrining equality for all in Israeli law, disabling a much-touted opportunity for anybody but Jewish citizens to exercise the right to national self-determination.

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The equality bill is one of the party's flagship laws it wants to promote ahead the next election. It aims at codifying the principle of equality in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, providing balance to the controversial Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.

The party plans to bring the original wording of the bill to a preliminary vote, but its sponsors could still change a major clause in the law to fit with an alternative version submitted by lawmaker Zvi Hauser from Derech Eretz party and Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar.

Kahol Lavan 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.

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 Kahol Lavan proposal reads: “All are equal before the law. One must not discriminate between one person and another directly or indirectly, in theory or in practice.”

The Hauser and Sa’ar version reads: “Every citizen is equal before the law. One must not violate the individual rights of any person because of religion, race and gender.”

Protesters wave Druze and Israeli flags during a demonstration against Israel's Nation-State Law in Tel Aviv, August 4, 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod

In their explanatory notes, Sa'ar and Hauser wrote: “In the proposed amendment there is no harm to the character or identity of Israel as a Jewish state, and it comes to establish the principle of equality among its citizens in their individual rights – civic equality and not national equality.”

The equality bill was one of Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz’s campaign promises to Israel’s Arabs following to the passage of the nation-state law. The party's explanatory notes state that the nation-state law “stressed the link between the State of Israel and the Jewish majority, in a way that was perceived as preferring one group of citizens over another.”

Kahol Lavan plans to bring the bill to a vote by circumventing the coalition, because the Ministerial Committee on Legislation that is meant to establish the government’s position on every bill has stopped meeting.

Hauser strongly criticized his colleagues in the “Kahol Lavan bloc,” arguing that the bill they’d submitted was “a miserable and negligent version.” In an interview with Reshet Bet radio on Sunday, Hauser said: “There is a clear majority in Israel that supports establishing equal personal rights. The version that Kahol Lavan submitted in haste allows a demand for equal national rights.”

It is not yet clear when Hauser and Sa’ar will submit their bill to a Knesset vote. Hauser is planning to submit this week a different bill that would require a referendum on any government decision to evacuate settlements established by the state.

“The referendum mechanism is the optimal mechanism for resolving deep disputes and to make decisions liable to spur strife and contention in Israeli society,” the bill specifies.

Sources in Kahol Lavan said that the party agrees in principle to support the alternative version proposed by Hauser and Sa’ar, but it prefers not to directly support a bill sponsored by a Likud lawmaker.

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