Zionist Union Backtracks, to Support Scrapping Contentious Nation-state Law

The move comes hours after the party said it would back an amended version of law

FILE Photo: Avi Gabbay, July 2018.
Emil Salman

The Zionist Union announced Tuesday that it will support a bill to annul the so-called nation-state law. The move came just hours after the Haaretz Hebrew edition reported that the party had decided to vote against the draft law. The party had initially said the law, whose full name is the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, should be amended, not annulled.

The bill calling for the law’s dissolution has symbolic significance only, and does not have the power to abolish the legislation. A preliminary vote on the draft law is scheduled in the Knesset Wednesday.

>>Basic Law or basically a disaster? Israel’s nation-state law controversy explained

“The nation-state law in its current form is a bad law and we oppose it,” the Zionist Union said in a statement Tuesday. “We therefore support the bill to annul it. At the same time, the party is proposing to lead a series of laws that are aligned with the principles of [Israel’s] Declaration of Independence, [for Israel that is] a Jewish and democratic state. Tomorrow the party will lead the bill to add the principle of equality to the law.” The statement added that the Zionist Union Knesset members had recently discussed and approved such a bill.

As a Basic Law, the nation-state law carries constitutional weight. It was widely supported by the right-wing parties in the coalition, which will not allow it to be annulled. The opposition Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties worked hard to prevent its passage, and voted against it in its two final readings in the Knesset in July. Among its controversial clauses is one that states that Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, which has a unique right to national self-determination here. Another contentious clause says that Hebrew is the only official language in Israel, and Arabic was defined as having special status.

Zionist Union MKs have been wrestling with whether to support the annulment bill, fearing that they could be seen as objecting to the definition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Haaretz Weekly podcast, Episode 8

The party said in a statement Tuesday that Zionist Union MK Miki Rosenthal will submit a bill adding the principle of equality to the nation-state law on Wednesday. “The acceptance of this amendment will assure the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with full equal rights for its citizens, and that is precisely the ideology of the Zionist Union,” the statement said.

Two parallel bills to annul the nation-state law are up for a vote on Wednesday, one by MK Mossi Raz and his Meretz colleagues and the other by MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List. A third bill, drawn up by Zionist Union MKs Merav Michaeli, Yossi Yonah and Yael Cohen Paran, will not be submitted for now. Cohen Paran said she intends to be absent from the vote tomorrow.

Meanwhile, officials in the centrist Yesh Atid party said Tuesday that they are in favor of amending, rather than invalidating, the nation-state law.

Jabareen said in response: “The entire opposition is against the nation-state law and I hope everyone comes to vote for its annulment. Don’t the MKs have a political and moral backbone? Either they’re in favor of the superiority of the Jewish people in the nation-state law, or they’re in favor of equality.”

Raz criticized the leadership of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid. He said their leaders, MKs Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, respectively, do not understand the role of the opposition.

“Only a few months ago the heads of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid fought this law. Opposition chairwoman Livni said the framers of the law had forgotten the Declaration of Independence, and Yesh Atid’s chairman rightly said it was intended to insult citizens. But apparently the centrist parties change their opinions like socks, because this week they intend to oppose a bill to annul the law,” Raz said.

“Perhaps it’s a lack of backbone, perhaps it’s amnesia, but we should remind them: The nation-state law is in opposition to the Declaration of Independence and it insults citizens. Not only does it insult non-Jewish citizens, but also anyone to whom democracy in Israel is important,” Raz added.