Netanyahu Attacks Left as Criticism Mounts Against Nation-state Law

'Don't be apologetic,' Netanyahu tell ministers amid uproar over the controversial legislation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a group of conscripts at the Tel Hashomer Recruitment Center near Tel Aviv on July 26, 2018.
AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on ministers on Sunday "not to be apologetic" about the nation-state law amid the uproar that the controversial legislation, which formally defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has sparked.

"The Jewish nation-state is a cornerstone of our existence," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting, adding that the discourse on the issue has been "one sided, the discussions in the [television] studios are shallow." 

"Don't be apologetic, fight for the truth," he said.

"The attacks from the left, which calls itself Zionist, reveal how low the left has sunk," Netanyahu added. "The Israeli left has to do some soul-searching," he said. "It must ask itself why a basic tenet of Zionism, a Jewish nation-state for the Israeli people in its country, has become for it a rude term, a dirty word, a principle that one should be ashamed of."

Netanyahu then added that "We are not ashamed of Zionism, we're proud of our state, as it is a Jewish home for the Jewish people that strictly adheres to the individual rights of all its citizens."

Israel's nation-state law

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Incoming opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) responded to Netanyahu's statements Sunday, saying "There are two sides - those in favor of the Declaration of Independence like us and the founding fathers of the state, and those who act against it, like you."

Livni noted some of Netanyahu's ministers admitted the law was "a mistake," and added "It's not too late to apologize (again), to amend and introduce equality. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, on that we all agree - for equal rights for all we still need to fight."

The legislation approved by the Knesset on July 19 affirmed that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel. It also downgraded Arabic to a language with “special status,” among several other controversial measures that affect the Israeli Druze.

On Saturday, Israeli Arab Knesset Member Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) announced he intended to resign from the Knesset in protest over the controversial law, saying it oppresses him and the population that elected him.

"The government submits the Knesset to its whims. The Knesset has become a rubber stamp of exceptional and racist legislation. I will run from it as one runs from raging fire," the lawmaker continued.

Last week, Druze lawmakers were the first to file a High Court of Justice petition against the legislation. A hundred Druze Israel Defense Forces reserve officers added their voices to that effort on Wednesday, prompting Education Minister Naftali Bennett to speak out in support of “our blood brothers” on Twitter. 

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon echoed similar sentiments on Thursday, telling Israeli Army Radio "The enactment of the nation-state law was done hastily."

"We were wrong and we need to fix it," he added during the interview.