Ministers to Vote on Jewish Nation-state Bill Sunday

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Hundreds of Israelis demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "Jewish nation-state" bill, on November 29, 2014 outside the Netanyahu's residency in Jerusalem.Credit: AFP

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is due on Sunday to vote on a bill defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and subjugating the country’s democratic system to its Jewish character.

The controversial “Nation-State Law,” sponsored by MK Avi Dicther (Likud), is a watered-down version of the original one Dichter submitted two Knesset sessions ago.

The bill’s opening clause says “the right to implement national self-definition in Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people” and that all Israeli legislation will be interpreted on the basis of this clause.

The second clause says the law is intended to fix Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

The new bill is signed by MKs from Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu, as well as two Kulanu MKs. At the demand of Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, a joint committee of members from all the coalition factions was set up to draft an agreed-upon version of the bill.

The ministers are expected to hand the bill over for discussion to a ministers’ committee formed three months ago to discuss the previous version.

Various versions of the nation-state law have been submitted to the Knesset in recent years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated several times he would advance a Basic Law regarding the official recognition that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Dichter’s original version of the bill, which defines Jewishness as the state’s default character, enables the courts to prefer Israel’s Jewishness to democratic principles, wherever there’s a clash between the two.

The new bill “softens” controversial clauses somewhat. The part stipulating that Hebrew will be the only official language in Israel was changed. While it still defines Hebrew as “the language of the state,” it grants the Arabic language a “special status” and says Arabic speakers “will have the right to lingual accessibility to the state’s services.”

The original draft said the state would be obligated to develop Jewish towns and settlements, but would be able to initiate, as it sees fit, construction for towns and settlements for communities of other nationalities. The current version says, obscurely, that “the state may enable a community of one religion or nationality to establish a separate communal settlement.”

According to the law, the national anthem, the state flag and emblem and independence and memorial days will have an official status. This draft, too, refers the courts to ancient Jewish religious law for inspiration, a clause that already exists in the current law.

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