Latest Version of Israeli Nation-state Law Heading for Vote by Cabinet Committee

In contrast to the earlier version, the new bill doesn’t subordinate democracy to the state’s Jewish character

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with fellow Likud MK Avi Dichter at the Knesset.
Emil Salman

The new version of the nation-state law, sponsored by MK Avi Dichter, is to be voted on by the cabinet’s legislative arm, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, on Sunday.

Dichter had been behind the original, more extreme version of the bill first submitted to the Knesset two terms ago. The new version is being co-sponsored by 13 other coalition MKs.

In contrast to the earlier version, the new bill doesn’t subordinate democracy to the state’s Jewish character. The new version holds that the State of Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people,” and that “the right to realize self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

The bill also states that “the national language is Hebrew” and that “the Arabic language has a special status in the state. Its speakers have the right to language-accessible state services.” The bill states that “every resident of Israel, without distinction of religion or national origin, is entitled to work to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity,” and that “the state may allow a community, including members of the same religion or national origin, to have separate communal settlements.”

The “nation-state law” refers to two different legislative processes that the coalition in the last Knesset tried to advance without success. One version, advanced by Habayit Hayehudi and the more hawkish wing of the Likud, demanded that the Jewish character of the state take precedence over its democratic character in Supreme Court rulings, thus changing the approach that had dictated a long list of judgments.

The more moderate version, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meant to enshrine it in law that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Netanyahu was seeking to anchor his demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a condition for returning to the negotiating table.

Because of disputes over the bill, the cabinet set up a team headed by then-coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi to draw up a bill everyone could live with, but the team failed. Last January the Ministerial Committee for Legislation postponed a vote on a much milder version of the bill formulated by MK Benny Begin, in order to come up with one acceptable to all the coalition parties. Begin’s bill would have declared Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” but would have ensured equal rights for all citizens, an assurance not clearly stated in Israeli law. Begin’s bill also declared that the system in Israel would be democratic, a principle not mentioned anywhere in the Declaration of Independence.