Netanyahu Instructs Cabinet Ministers Not to Vote on Nation-state Bill

Political assessment is that Netanyahu acted in order to calm tensions in Arab-Israeli community.

Marc Israel Sellem

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will not be voting on the Basic Law on the Nation-State on Sunday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred the controversial bill to a special panel.

Initiated by MK Avi Dichter (Likud), the bill defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and would subordinate Israel’s democratic identity to its Jewish one. The current bill is a watered-down version of the one submitted to the Knesset two sessions ago.

Netanyahu will not allow the bill to be submitted until its wording has been approved by a special committee, an agreement that was included in the coalition agreements, ministerial committee sources told Haaretz. The committee has yet to be appointed.

The assessment in political circles is that Netanyahu’s move is designed to calm tensions within Israel’s Arab community.

A separate version of the bill, proposed by MK Benny Begin (Likud), was discussed by the ministerial committee last July. It, too, is due to be submitted to the special committee when it is formed.

Each party in the coalition has the right to veto legislation brought before the committee. Senior members of Kulanu said over the weekend the party would not support Dichter’s bill because it was contrary to their principles.

Kulanu prefers Begin’s version, which states: “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, based on freedom, justice and peace in accordance with the vision of the prophets of Israel, and which upholds equal rights for all its citizens.”

The Israel Democracy Institute had circulated a legal opinion to government ministers before the vote was postponed over the weekend. In it, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and Dr. Amir Fuchs maintained that the bill is “unnecessary and dangerous, and could upset the delicate balance between the two basic tenets of the state – Jewish and democratic.”

The bill, they added, could lead to “irreversible damage to Jewish-Arab relations during this sensitive period, as well as damage to Israel’s international reputation as a Western democracy.”