Israel Retreats on Contentious 'Nation-State Law:' Jewish Identity Will Not Take Precedence Over Democratic Values

Opposition from Kulanu brings about changes assuring the bill will pass its first reading in the Knesset in December

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (right), MK Amir Ohana and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin at a meeting of the special committee preparing the "Jewish nation-State Law" in July.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (right), MK Amir Ohana and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin at a meeting of the special committee preparing the "Jewish nation-State Law" in July. Emil Salman

The proposed “Jewish Nation-State Law” will not give precedence to the Jewish character of Israel over its democratic nature. The government coalition has agreed to change the wording of the controversial bill and remove one of the main motifs of the original, which would have required the courts to give precedence to the Jewish character of Israel in cases where it conflicts with democratic values.

The decision will now allow the Knesset to hold its first vote on the bill on December 12. The chairman of the special committee preparing the law for its first reading, MK Amir Ohana (Likud), decided on the change after Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party made it clear that it would not support the bill in its previous form. 

Kulanu said the original version of the bill would discriminate against non-Jewish immigrants, as well as Arabs and other minorities living in Israel. The chairman of Kulanu’s Knesset faction, MK Roy Folkman, led the negotiations between Kulanu and Ohana and coalition whip MK David Bitan (Likud).

The new version of the proposed law includes changes in the order of the sections of the law, to clarify that all legislation in Israel will be interpreted according to both democratic values and the country’s Jewish nature – without giving one priority over the other.

Most coalition MKs have expressed support for the changes, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who had promoted similar legislation in the past, sources involved in the negotiations over the law told Haaretz. Ohana also personally supported the change, in opposition to more conservative voices in his own party, led by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who is one of the harshest critics of the Supreme Court in the government, said the sources.

The bill is expected to pass its first reading in the Knesset, along with a bill granting funds to serving Knesset members for their primary campaigns.

Both laws require an absolute majority of at least 61 MKs voting in favor, and Bitan and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman have barred MKs and ministers from being absent on the day of the vote in an attempt to avoid a parliamentary defeat.

Bitan recently told Haaretz that an agreement had been reached in which all the parties of the governing coalition will vote for the Nation-State Law in its first reading in the Knesset, but whether the billl will pass in its final form is still unclear due to disagreements.  

One of these issues Is the lack of the term “equality” in the law. This is one of the matters Folkman is expected to raise when the bill returns to committee after passing its first reading. An alternative version supported by Folkman would state instead of equality, the state is “obligated to protecting the rights of all its residents.”