Jewish statehood took a step toward official adoption on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to send it to the national parliament, the Knesset, putting it on the brink of official approval of Israel as a “nation-state of Jewish people” in the next week, if it passes. Detractors express concerns that democracy cannot live side by side with a Jewish legal system nor promote any kind of harmony between Jews, Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs. Netanyahu fervently champions the bill as an extension of Israel’s basic demand for recognition as a Jewish nation as a condition of any peace deal, reiterating Israel’s commitment to democracy and equal rights.
On Monday, Hamas threatened that passage of the statehood bill could provoke a religious war. They claim Zionist aspirations are based on myths and aim to dominate the Arab region in order to pilfer the natural resources and demean the people. Mohamed Hussein, Mufti of Jerusalem scorned the Jewish nation-state legislation as proof of Israeli racism. Haaretz reports that the bill does recognize the personal rights of Israeli and Arab citizens alike, it stops short of recognizing their communal rights.
At the same time, the U.S. State Department expressed doubts that the statehood law could co-exist with Israel’s commitment to equal rights. Israeli Economics Minister, Naftali Bennett refuted the statement saying, in essence, that Israeli law is fundamentally an internal issue with which the U.S. has no business. He said that the issue of what kind of country that Israelis want is a matter for their own citizens to decide without outside intervention.
The bill combines two separate, but similar proposals by MK Ze’ev Elkin and Ayelet Shaked, Robert Ilatov and Yariv Levin. Sunday’s cabinet vote cleared the way for a Knesset vote on statehood. The legislation, which is on the brink of an historic vote, explains that Israel is culturally and historically the home of the Jewish people who alone have the right to determine their national character. If passed as is, Arabic would lose its status as an official language as Hebrew would become the only recognized language.
Netanyahu has expressed a willingness to amend the proposal with more moderate language that gives equal importance to the nation’s fundamental heritage and its commitment to democratic principles. The bill already unequivocally establishes support for the rights of all citizens. The prime minister’s amendments would keep Arabic as an official language. The document gives Jewish law precedence over democracy where the two clash. The Jewish religious holidays as national holidays, codify the Magen David as the Israeli flag and legally establish automatic citizenship under the Law of Return.
If any version of the nation-state law passes the Knesset vote, it will become part of Israel’s Basic Laws, which form the basis of the Israeli legal system in lieu of a constitution and can only be repealed by a special majority vote. The bill’s supporters say that the bill is only formalizing the practical reality on the ground that has existed for decades. Their objective is to give legal weight to the Declaration of Independence issued in 1948, ending the British Mandate and establishing a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel.
The prime minister reassures doubters that Israel has one of the strongest democracies in the world and that the statehood bill is not about to change that. He is a firm believer that Israel can be both a Jewish state and a champion of its citizens’ personal rights. He pledges to keep pushing this law over the brink and lead Israel to fully embrace its core values embodied in the idea of a Jewish democracy.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Ze’ev Barkan – Flickr Image