Today, following a long session of deliberations, the Israeli government approved its basic support for the two “nation-state” bills dealing with Israel’s Jewish character. The bills were approved based on a commitment that following a first reading (out of four readings which take place) the bills will not be advanced in their current form, and instead, the government will advance the version presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu, based on the document of principles publicized in recent days.
Over the past few months, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) voiced its clear and unequivocal reservations from the private bills. These subject Israel’s democratic character to its Jewish character and change basic legal decisions regarding the relationship between the Jewish majority and Arab minority, such as making Hebrew the only official language of the State.
Even though the Prime Minister’s document of principles softens the private bills by securing the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and not mentioning the status of languages, the document still contains fundamental problems which justify blocking the move to approve the bill. Among the main problems with the document are that the unique national elements of the Arab and Druze citizens of the country and their collective rights are not mentioned; the lack of the equality principle as a basic value according to the Israeli legal system; that the commonalities between all Israeli citizens, Jews, Arab and Druze are not mentioned either; and finally, giving Jewish law (Halacha) a legal status as an inspirational platform to the Knesset’s actions.
It is important to note that many senior Israeli lawyers and lawmakers, including the government legal advisor and those who receive much public trust from all sides of the political spectrum expressed their objection to the bills. In the coming days, the IMPJ will work with government and different party officials in the Knesset, and together with many other partners to block this law.
We believe that Israel’s Jewish character and its being the national homeland of the Jewish people are fundamental constitutional principles that are worthy of protection and expression in Israeli law. These principles are clearly stated in Israel’s declaration of independence, in the Knesset fundamental laws, and in a long list of other laws, such as the law of return. This new legal step will not strengthen these principles, but rather is destined to weaken them, all while increasing the tension within Israeli society. We believe in the need to advance an Israeli constitution in an overarching and comprehensive move which will express all aspects of Israeli identity in a balanced and responsible way. Only this type of move, which defines the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, as the democratic state of all its citizens and as a state which accepts all its minorities, can we strengthen the Zionist enterprise and its fulfillment in the State of Israel.
Below is the IMPJ’s official press statement following this morning’s deliberations in the Israeli government:
“The ‘nation-state’ bills approved today in the Israeli government place a real stain on the State of Israel and provides unnecessary and damaging ammunition to all those wishing to question the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise. The fact that the bills will not be advanced and instead be replaced with a version presented by the Prime Minister does not change the fact that the unnecessary damage has already been done. During days of increased tension between the Jewish and Arab Israeli public, one cannot protest and object racism on the one hand, and advance legal processes which are seen as exclusionary, on the other. We can only regret that the Prime Minister did not listen to the government legal advisor’s and senior lawyers’ advice to postpone the entire process; we hope that he will step away from his initial intension. It is only appropriate that any legislative move dealing with Israel’s fundamental principles include all aspects of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state which acknowledges the existence of minority groups and the centrality of the principle of equality” (Rabbi Gilad Kariv, IMPJ executive director).