Ultra-Orthodox Lawmakers Stall Bill Defining Israel as 'National Home of Jewish People'

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman at the Knesset, March 18, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman

Lawmakers for United Torah Judaism have told the heads of the Knesset coalition that they will not vote for the so-called Jewish nation-state bill.

Sources in the party told Haaretz that their opposition was twofold: The bill is slated to become a Basic Law, and UTJ opposes the passage of new constitutional laws. In addition, the party’s Knesset members are concerned that the interpretation of the proposed law by the High Court of Justice would negatively affect UTJ’s ultra-Orthodox constituency.

The bill states that Israel is the “national home of the Jewish people” and that the right to self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

“In the matter of the nation-state bill, there are issues that are sensitive for us in terms of values. We shouldn’t be taken by surprise. We asked that continued legislation be coordinated with us,” said a source in UTJ who asked not to be identified.

In light of the ultra-Orthodox opposition, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided to postpone voting on the version of the bill that was drawn up by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of Habayit Hayehudi. The bill's formulation would subordinate Israel’s democratic character to its Jewish identity. The bill states that Jewish law will be a source of inspiration for the Knesset as it enacts laws, and for judges in their rulings.

Sources in the coalition confirmed that the bill’s progress had stalled due to the opposition of Haredi legislators. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly instructed coalition chairman David Bitan on Sunday to abandon the version of the bill that was approved last week by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation as a government-sponsored bill. It was to be presented to the Knesset in about two months’ time for a first reading, with expedited second and third readings. That version of the draft law was initially introduced by Likud MK Avi Dichter, as a private member’s bill.

Netanyahu’s move sowed confusion on Sunday in the coalition, whose members had different assessments as to which version of the bill was to advance.

“We’ll move ahead on Dichter’s bill. There will be changes in it of course, but that’s only on condition that the Haredim remove their opposition,” Bitan said. Bitan said he did not know whether the coalition would move to amend a controversial clause in Dichter’s version of the bill, which downgrades the status of the Arabic language in Israel.

However, according to another source in the coalition, the government-sponsored bill was still on the table and was based on a more extreme formulation proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) a few years ago. “The Justice Ministry will formulate a version of the government bill and only then will we decide whether to move the bill ahead as a private member’s bill or a government bill,” the source said.

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