Israeli MKs Waver on Support for Jewish Identity Bill

Bill introduced by MK Avi Dichter (Kadima), would drop Arabic as one of the state's official languages, among other provisions.

Four Knesset members have withdrawn their support for a private member's bill that would subordinate democratic rule to Israel's Jewish identity. Three of the MKs - Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ) and Kadima's Doron Avital and Shlomo Molla - have already formally removed their signatures from the draft for the new Basic Law. MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ) said he will remove his within a few days.

Israel's Basic Laws serve as the country's constitution. The bill was introduced by MK Avi Dichter (Kadima ), and is sometimes called Dichter's Law. The law would drop Arabic as one of the official languages of the state, among other provisions.

Avi Dichter - Emil Salman - 07112011
Emil Salman

One-third of all MKs, including most Kadima representatives, signed Dichter's Law.

Mohammed Barakeh, chairman of Hadash, asked Rivlin to raise the draft law in the presidium again, saying he thought the body was overly hasty and had violated the regulation barring bills that collide with the definition of Israel as a democratic state.

Despite his refusal of Barakeh's request, Rivlin stressed over the weekend that he "disagrees with the bill."

The Knesset's legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, informed Barakeh that because the bill is neither racist nor does it reject the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people it must be approved for the Knesset agenda. However, last week Yinon took the rare step of calling for a broad public and parliamentary debate on the draft law, citing its broad implications for Israel's constitutional status.

"If the law is passed, at the top of constitutional priorities will be the principle of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and only under it will be the principle of a democratic state," Yinon said. "And even then, it will be in a 'slim' formula that states 'the State of Israel will have a democratic regime,' as opposed to 'the State of Israel is a democratic state.'"

In response to the latest criticism of his bill, Dichter said on Sunday that "the resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1947 and Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948 stipulate that Israel will be a Jewish state. This in no way erodes or damages the democratic dimension of the society and the state in Israel," Dichter said.