Israeli Ministers Postpone Decision on Jewish Nation-state Legislation

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Likud lawmaker Benny Begin at a party meeting, Jerusalem, 2009.
Likud lawmaker Benny Begin at a party meeting, Jerusalem, 2009.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Israeli ministers on Sunday postponed a decision on whether to support a more softly worded version of Israel's proposed Jewish nation-state legislation, as put forward by Likud lawmaker Benny Begin.

After a review of Begin's proposal, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to delay a decision by three months, and to seek additional versions of the bill.

Coalition parties each have the right to veto the legislation, and a committee named by the cabinet is tasked with coming up with wording that would satisfy all parties.

Begin's proposal called for passing legislation to declare Israel as a "nation state of the Jewish people" but guarantee equal rights to all, which goes beyond what the cabinet's original bill states.  

Zionist Union has said it would support Begin's compromise, which also specifies that Israel is a democracy.

The "nation-state legislation" is a code name for two steps the coalition has sought to advance unsuccessfully since the Knesset's last term.

Hundreds of Israelis demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "Jewish nation-state" bill, on November 29, 2014 outside the Netanyahu's residency in Jerusalem.Credit: AFP

A version supported by Habayit Hayehudi and Likud hawks called for setting a preference to the state's Jewish character over democracy in high court rulings, thereby dictating how justices should decide.

A more moderate version advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had aimed to declare Israel as a Jewish nation state with the intention of anchoring his demand of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu has made this demand a condition for returning to the negotiating table.

Begin's compromise is seen as a more moderate version with the potential to overcome controversy over the legislation. The official name of Begin's bill is "The substance of the state of Israel law," and he says this wording is grounded in the Declaration of Independence.

The legislation has two clauses, one which sets out the substance of the state. "Israel is a state of the Jewish people, based on the principles of freedom, justice and peace and the visions of Israel's prophets and which upholds equality for all its citizens."

The second paragraph determines that "the state of Israel is a democracy." The Yesh Atid party has served notice of its intention to support the measure when it is brought to a vote.

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