A Knesset committee meeting that had been scheduled for Wednesday, February 21, to vote on a controversial bill that would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” in a new Basic Law was postponed indefinitely after coalition members failed to agree on the bill’s wording.
The aim had been for the committee to vote on a version of the proposal that could be brought before the Knesset for its first reading on Sunday of this week, February 25. The chances of its being brought to the Knesset plenum before the end of the current parliamentary session now look slim.
The bill, slammed by Hadash as discriminatory toward Arabs and other minority populations, has raised the ire of opposition members of the Knesset. The coalition United Torah Judaism party indicated that it, too, would vote against the bill because of its opposition, in principle, to Basic Laws (which, in lieu of a constitution for Israel, are the closest thing that comes to constitutional authority).
Tuesday, February 20, the coalition circulated a new text for the bill that stated that all laws, including Basic Laws, would be interpreted on the sole basis of Israel being the state of the Jewish people. It said, “The Land of Israel is the historical birthplace of the Jewish People, on which the State of Israel rose,” and that the right to realize national self-determination in the State of Israel was “unique to the Jewish People.”
This portion of the proposed text went on to say that all laws would be interpreted through the prism of the above criteria. The definition of Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state” only appeared further down in the text.
The new version retained the provision that the state has the right to create Jewish-only communities and defended the right of existing communities to operate admission committees that can deny requests for residence on religious or national grounds. It defined Hebrew as the country’s sole national language, demoting Arabic from an official language to one having a “special status.”
Hadash MK Dov Khenin of the Joint List said, “The efforts to distract public opinion from the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are collapsing. We know that it is not the end, yet, because racism was always the refuge of the corrupt. As a prime minister under suspicion, Netanyahu is particularly dangerous and that’s a further reason why his term of office should be brought to an immediate end.”