When Livni Gave the Nation-state Law Her Blessing

The opposition leader's objections to the legislation were very minor, but she changed her tune once she got a chance to brand herself the leader of the left

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Tzipi Livni speaking at a Zionist Union event, May 25, 2018.
Tzipi Livni speaking at a Zionist Union event, May 25, 2018. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

This week the Kohelet Policy Forum held a seminar on the nation-state law. One of the main speakers, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, attacked it harshly. She said the law “cuts off the foot of democracy … [and] stains the Law of Return.”

Nothing less. Although Livni is known for her amazing flip-flopping from one ideology to another and from one party to another, this time it seems she has broken all the records of political Zionism.

In late 2009, the Institute for Zionist Strategies completed the drafting of the nation-state bill. In early 2010 I met with Livni, who at the time headed the opposition party Kadima; I suggested that she take charge of the bill. The assumption: Likud, which was in power, would certainly support it. So would the rest of the governing coalition. If the main opposition joined, the bill would pass by a huge majority.

The version I presented to Livni was more “ultranationalist” than the one that passed recently. It said, for example, that “only the Jewish people has the right to realize its national self-determination in the State of Israel.”

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Livni read it carefully, looked me in the eye, and said: I very much agree with the principle that the Jewish people, and only it, has the exclusive right to self-determination in the State of Israel. To remain a Jewish state, we must withdraw from Judea and Samaria. For that reason alone, I must guarantee that in the small area that remains — the State of Israel covers only a small part of the Land of Israel — ownership will be in the hands of the Jewish state.

Livni did not mention, even in a subsequent meeting, the absence of the “equality” clause. She did vehemently oppose the clause saying that “in the Israel Defense Forces and in government institutions, kashrut will be observed.” That was her only reservation. It was agreed that the legal adviser to her party in the Knesset, along with a member of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, would meet to prepare the bill for the rest of its parliamentary journey.

Eventually it turned out that Livni didn’t help advance the bill. The explanation: She defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2009 election (28 seats to 27) because she had branded herself the leader of the left, the only person who could save the country from the lunatic right. Therefore many members of the Labor Party (the party lost six seats in that election) and Meretz (which lost two seats) voted for her. I was told, however, that Kadima remained committed to the nation-state bill.

And in fact, Livni was replaced by MK Avi Dichter, who got 20 Knesset members from Kadima and a few from Labor to sign the draft of the bill. Two Labor MKs even demanded to be among the seven “initiators”: Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Eitan Cabel. In Dichter’s discussions with people at the institute, he suggested moderating several clauses. The potential support for the moderated bill was almost 100 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs.

But it was actually Netanyahu who was responsible for the failure of this version of the bill — maybe because Kadima was in charge of it, or maybe because he wanted to save it for an opportune time such as a pre-election period (as turned out to be the case). In any event, the mistake of the man “who works on behalf of history” really was historic: In 2010 there was a rare propitious moment. It would have been possible to pass a nation-state bill better than the one that passed, and with a national consensus unprecedented since the establishment of the state.

Haim Ramon, a former minister and member of the Labor Party and Kadima, also spoke at the Kohelet Policy Forum meeting. “The heart of the law was Tzipi’s,” he told the surprised audience. “She drove us crazy in order to turn the ‘nation-state’ into law.”

Ramon said that in the next election, the left would lose big because of a blurring of the boundary between the Zionist and non-Zionist left. Ramon was right. In a suicidal move the Zionist left continues to fight against the nation-state law. And who’s dictating that? The anti-Zionist left.

Israel Harel, a Haaretz columnist, chaired the Institute for Zionist Strategies from 2005 to 2015.

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