Israel's Nation-state Law to Strengthen Jewish Values in Court, Says Justice Minister

'The nation-state bill that came up this week will make the presence of Jewish values felt as a tool for judges,' says Ayelet Shaked

A Jerusalem Day March through Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
Daniel Bar-On

The Knesset passed on Wednesday a preliminary reading of the independent nation-state bill submitted by MK Avi Dichter. The bill will be put on hold for two months during which the government will sponsor a replacement bill.

The controversial bill enshrines Israel's status as “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.” It also revokes Arabic's "official language" status in Israel.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Wednesday that the bill is meant to make judges consider Israel’s Jewish character in an equal manner to its democratic character in rulings where the two values clash.

“We have a wonderful but very activist court,” Shaked said. “In the 20 years since we enacted the law on human dignity and freedom we've seen a court system that gives more weight to democratic values over Jewish values. The nation-state bill that came up this week will make the presence of Jewish values felt as a tool for judges.”

Shaked’s comments seem to contradict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks on the bill this week. Netanyahu said the government’s bill would enshrine “the fact that Israel is the nation-state for the Jewish people in their historical homeland.” He added, “It also enshrines into Israeli law our flag, our anthem and Jerusalem being our eternal capital.”

Netanyahu did not address controversial clauses in versions of the bill submitted by the right in past years, chief among them the demand to legally subordinate democracy to the state’s Jewish character. Officials from the prime minister's Likud Party said this week that Netanyahu’s ignoring these fundamentals indicates that he will not include them in the government’s bill to be presented in two months.

The nation-state law refers to two different bills the right has pushed in recent years. First, Netanyahu called on enacting a law in Israel that would demand the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Meanwhile, MKs from Habayit Hayehudi and the hawkish wing of the Likud have advanced a formula invoking preference for Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic character. Dichter’s private-members' bill includes a host of clauses to enshrine the status of Judaism in the state and to lower the status of other religions. However, the clause about subordinating democracy to Judaism was struck from it.