Nation-State Bill Passes First Reading  

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Nation-State Bill Passes First Reading

Written by Mara Vigevani/TPS on May 01, 2018

Israel’s controversial  Nation-state bill passed a first reading in the Knesset overnight between Monday and Tuesday by a 64-50 majority.

Seven years after then-Kadima and now Likud MK Avi Dichter’s original proposal, the bill will now undergo further debate in a special Knesset committee chaired by MK Amir Ohana (Likud).

The bill stipulates that Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” and that “the right to realize national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” The bill also enshrines the Israeli flag and the national anthem into law along with Jerusalem as the state’s eternal capital.

Among its most controversial elements, the bill would demote the Arabic language to a “special status language” instead of an official language, although, according to the bill, “without hurting its status.” Furthermore, the bill would permit that “the state may allow a community, including members of one religion or one nationality, to maintain separate communal settlement.”

“The Nation-state  Law is the insurance certificate we will leave behind for future generations,” said Dichter who has been promoting the bill since the 18th Knesset. “The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. This is clear,  but despite everything, after 70 years, unfortunately, it is not clear to everyone and is certainly has not been anchored in any law,” he added.

Countering criticism of the bill, Dichter explained, “Everyone retains their rights as an individual, the law address only the national character of the State of Israel. I think quite a few of the law’s opponents have failed to read it.”

However, Meretz Chairperson MK Tamar Zandberg said the law was harmful.  “This law is an excellent illustration of the saying: If nothing is broken, there is no need to fix it,” she said. “There is also a second part of the saying: when you try to fix something that is not broken, it can damage it, and a lot. And this is what this law does: It  does not bring any benefit but rather damage. What is wrong with the wording of the Declaration of Independence? Could not we take it, and anchor it as a Basic law? As a Jew, as a daughter of the Jewish people, who has won national recognition in the State of Israel, I am ashamed” she said.

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union ) also opposed the bill, saying that protecting “ our Jewish and democratic state from enemies is a main task. But we must defend our Jewish and democratic state also from the current Israeli government”

“If a government thinks that democracy is the majority we should send it to a citizenship class for beginners. Democracy is a system of rights that the majority must preserve. A system of rights of minorities. A system of rights for citizens,” Livni said.

Likud MK Benny Begin was also critical of the proposed legislation. “I would venture to say that a Nation State Law that does not give equal rights to all of Israel’s citizens will not pass its third reading, but in the meantime, those who are against [stating equal rights in the bill] have gained the upper hand. I, therefore, cannot support it, both for what it omits and for what it includes,” Begin said.

Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that while he believes the State of Israel needs a nation-state bill, he is concerned about the wording of the current bill.

“On the one hand, this version does not state the that the nation-state bill subjugates other laws, as the previous version did, but, on the other,  it has deleted another important paragraph, stating that the purpose of the law is to protect a democratic Jewish state in the spirit of the values of the Declaration of Independence. Such a paragraph could balance the strong nationalistic spirit of the law.”

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