Netanyahu Tells Knesset: I'm Determined to Pass Jewish Nation-state Bill

Speaking about the controversial bill, PM questions why many support a Palestinian state but object to spelling out Israel's role as Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to pass the controversial Jewish nation-state bill, he told the Knesset on Wednesday, saying that in Israel there is too much of a focus on individual civil rights at the expense of the rights of the Jewish state.

Speaking at a tempestuous Knesset hearing originally meant to be on the cost of living, Netanyahu questioned why many support the establishment of a Palestinian state but object to spelling out Israel's role as a Jewish state.

"Those who speak domestically about two states for two peoples and oppose the nation-state law are making a contradictory statement: 'The Palestinians deserve a nation-state of their own, and this state [Israel] will be binational,'" Netanyahu said.

The nation-state bill is a draft of a quasi-constitutional Basic Law, defining Israel as a Jewish state and granting national rights only to the Jewish people, while upholding all citizens' rights as individuals.

"Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and for the sake of creating a balance and resisting those who challenge, I am determined to advance my version of the nation-state law," the prime minister said, alluding to the multiple competing versions of the proposal. "Over the years, a distinct imbalance has been created between the Jewish element and the democratic one. There is an imbalance between individual rights and national rights in Israel."

In an effort to make the legislation more palatable, Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have both proposed watered-down versions of the bill.

Netanyahu, who was interrupted frequently by jeering and shouting from the lawmakers in attendance, acknowledged that non-Jews must have equal rights, a statement lacking in his version of the bill, but said the country as a whole must be a Jewish state.

"I oppose a binational state," said Netanyahu. "I want a state of one nation: the Jewish nation-state, which also includes non-Jews with equal rights."

"I understand why Hamas opposes the nation-state law, but some of my good friends [also] oppose this nation-state law," he said.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Labor Party, said the bill was weakening the country and endangering democracy.

Only an insecure prime minister without a vision or a plan "needs verbal sophistry like the nation-state bill to justify that which is taken for granted," said Herzog. He said the proposal puts the country at risk of losing its character as a "democratic and egalitarian" country.

Herzog said asking the Knesset to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state was the wrong way to go about it.

"In a deal with the Palestinians, I think there does need to be a national recognition for each other's state," he said. "But when you take this law to the Knesset to change the balance in the country, you are violating Israeli democracy."