Likud Lawmaker Warns Israel's Nation-state Law Could Harm LGBT Rights

MK Amir Ohana seeks to replace a provision directing judges to look to Jewish religious law in matters without legal precedent with one including a reference to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state

MK Amir Ohana in a Knesset debate on the nation-state bill, December 8, 2017
Emile Salman

The chairman of the Knesset committee that is preparing a bill meant to give Israel’s definition as the nation-state of the Jewish people the force of constitutional law objects to a clause broaden the application of religious law out of concern for LGBT rights.

MK Amir Ohama, an openly gay man from the ruling Likud party, said he would not allow the Knesset to vote on a provision directing judges to look to Jewish religious law in matters for which there is no current law or legal precedent. He cited possible harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Israelis as a result of drawing from the principles of religious law.

Ohana’s stance on the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People is expected to lead to a clash within the coalition.

The religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party insists on keeping the article, which is also expected to face opposition from two additional coalition partners, Kulanu and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the liaison between the cabinet and the Knesset, has announced that in light of the numerous disagreements over the legislation within the coalition, the bill would be presented in its original version without any amendments for the first of the three Knesset votes it must pass.

As a result of Levin’s decision, the proposed changes that arose in committee and additional demands from parties in the coalition will only be introduced after the first vote.

Senior coalition members expressed the belief that, after the first vote, the legislation would be put on hold due to the differences of opinion and that it would not be advanced during the current Knesset term.

Deputy committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) is leading efforts to pass the bill’s Jewish-law provision. He is seeking approval of identical legislation by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which he chairs.

Ohana seeks to replace the provision with one including a reference to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

In July, during a Knesset debate on the nation-state bill, Tourism Minister Levin said: “This bill states the obvious, that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Since the passage of basic laws expressing the very important principle that Israel is a democratic country with human rights and civil rights, a reality has been created in which there is a lack of balance when the state is silent with respect to its Jewish identity and gives expression to other rights.”