MK Khenin – Netanyahu to Far Right: “Our ‘Jewish Nation-State’ Law Will Weaken Democracy”

The far-right “Jewish Nation-State” bill cannot be fast-tracked to complete the first stage of its legislation before the Knesset summer break, the parliament’s legal counsel warned on Wednesday, July 12.

Likud lawmaker MK Amir Ohana, who was appointed to head a special commission set up to promote the bill earlier in the day, insisted that the coalition would do everything it could to complete the first of the bill’s three readings in time.

The bill defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people would force the Supreme Court to favor Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic character should the two conflict. The draft bill defines the country as “a Jewish and democratic state” but requires the court to interpret the law based on Israel being the Jewish nation-state.

"We're stopping the [Jewish] Nation-State Law!"

“We’re stopping the [Jewish] Nation-State Law!”

Even before the Knesset’s House Committee appointed Ohana to chair the special commission, which has nine members from the coalition and seven from the opposition, legal counsel Eyal Yinon notified him that the bill could not be enacted in the rapid period envisioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since the bill revolves around a major and complex basic law (one of several on the books, in lieu of a constitution, which Israel doesn’t have), Yinon explained, two weeks is not enough time to properly explore a proposal of this magnitude.

Opposition members spoke out sharply against the establishment of the special commission during the House Committee session where the notion was debated.

“What happened to the prime minister to make him rush to promote the law before elections … is the submarine effect,” said Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) during in the debate, making reference to the developing scandal surrounding Israel’s procurement of submarines from Germany. The prime minister is “taking us to new depths of racism and chauvinism.” Netanyahu’s lawyer and cousin, David Shimron, was questioned by the police under caution in recent days in connection with the submarine affair, it was announced on Wednesday. Shimron is a suspect in “Case 3000,” in which authorities are investigating possible corruption and bribery infractions in a multi-billion shekel naval deal with the German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp.

Khenin claimed that the special commission responsible for examining the bill was intentionally set up to neutralize the voice of Likud lawmaker Benny Begin, who opposes the bill. MK Begin sits on the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that had initially been slated to debate the bill’s merits.

Accusing the prime minister of creating a “circus atmosphere,” Khenin said Netanyahu was “playing with committees to keep Benny Begin, at bay” and added, “You can’t hold a discussion like this in a body that has been tailored to the needs of the coalition.”

Khenin also charged that, if enacted, the law “would lead to dramatic structural change in Israel’s constitutional regime. Netanyahu tells the extreme right that the law will weaken the democratic dimension [of the state]. He tells the ultra-Orthodox that it will strengthen the Jewish character of the state. But nobody knows what the outcome will be,” warned Khenin.