A special joint meeting of the Knesset’s House Committee and its Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved on Tuesday, March 13, a version of a bill for the first of three readings before the country’s legislature that would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” as a new Basic Law having constitutional status: “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” In the approved version to be sent to the Knesset for a vote, the word “democracy” does not appear. The bill also includes a clause allowing the establishment of residential communities exclusively for Jews.
Late Monday evening, members of the joint Knesset committee received notice to be present at 9 am Tuesday to debate the new version of the bill.
A majority of nine MKs voted in favor of the proposed Basic Law: Amir Ohana, Avi Dichter, Sharren Haskel (Likud), Avraham Neguise (Likud), Roy Folkman (Kulanu), Michael Malchieli (Shas), Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu), Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism).
Seven opposition MKs voted against the approved version because of the deletion of text referring to democracy and the Declaration of Independence. They were: Dov Khenin (Hadash –Joint List), Michal Biran (Zionist Camp), Revital Swid (Zionist Camp), Saleh Saad (Zionist Camp), Jamal Zahalka (Balad – Joint List), Yael German (Yesh Atid) and Mossi Raz (Meretz).
Despite the objections, the bill’s sponsors say they hope the Knesset will vote in favor of the bill this week in the first of three readings before the full plenum. The legislation is designed to lay the groundwork for the Supreme Court to give preference to Israel’s “Jewish character” over its democratic values should the two come into conflict in the courts.
Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) told the committee: “Why does this law need to be passed now? What is so urgent? The attorney general needs to intervene to bar passage of such a law during such a political period. It disturbs me very much that people aren’t shocked by such legislation, which has a black flag flying over it.”
Addressing the bill’s sponsors, Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said: “You are institutionalizing the apartheid regime in the most blatant way.”
“The picture is clear now,” she said. “The Likud’s election campaign will be on this topic, to lash out at the Arab public again and again. Why would they need this bill now? What is so urgent for the Likud? This coalition doesn’t care what the attorney-general says… he says this is blatant discrimination – and no one cares.”
Following Tuesday’s vote, the Communist Party of Israel and Hadash issued a statement saying that the legislation “proves how far-right, racist and dangerous this government is.”