Knesset Set to Give Initial Approval of Bill Allowing Jewish-only Communities

Representatives of Attorney General’s Office and Knesset’s legal department say it is discriminatory and unconstitutional

A joint Knesset committee (with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in attendance on the right) discusses the nation-state bill.
Emil salman

The Knesset is expected to approve, in the first of three votes, a version of the proposed Nation-State Bill that includes a provision that allows for the establishment of communities for Jews only, even though representatives of the Attorney General’s Office and the Knesset’s legal department say it is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Also, the word “democracy” was struck from this version of the controversial bill, a move that the ruling coalition claims softened the proposal and abolished the subordination of the state’s democratic values to its identity as a Jewish state. This alteration is expected to foil the bill’s original purpose, which was to permit the High Court of Justice to take into consideration so-called Jewish national values when they clash with democratic ones.

A further clause removed from the latest version was one calling for the subordination of all Israeli laws, including the Basic Laws that function as the state’s quasi-constitution, to the provisions of the Nation-State Law itself.

The new bill is also expected to privilege Hebrew over the Arabic language, though this is mainly a symbolic distinction. “Hebrew is the language of the state. Arabic has a special status, its speakers have the right to language-accessible state services. In practice, nothing in this clause shall do harm to the Arabic language’s status just prior to the enactment of this Basic Law,” the bill states.

The parties in the ruling coalition agreed to support the bill only for the first round of votes in the Knesset, due to the opposition of some of the parties to the current version.

MKs with Kulanu and Yisrael Beiteinu criticized the bill as discriminatory toward new immigrants who are not Jewish according to Orthodox religious law, and called for a number of changes to the bill. The Haredi parties expressed opposition to the bill on two fronts: opposition in principle to the Basic Laws as well to the bill’s lack of distinction between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews, treating them equally.

According to an agreement reached by the coalition, the present version of the bill will be shelved after the Knesset vote Monday, and will presumably not be put to a second and a third vote in the current Knesset session. Nevertheless, this scheduled first vote represents a significant advance for the bill.

“Even though there’s currently no agreement that would enable the bill’s approval in a second and third vote, its approval in the first vote will allow the coalition to advance it in the next Knesset session, starting from the place it stopped in this session,” said a senior Likud figure speaking on condition of anonymity. “We believe an appropriate situation will be created in the current government that will make it possible to submit the bill to us for final approval despite the current opposition to it.”