By Moran Azulay, YNET
The public storm brewing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition over a vote on the ‘Nationality Law’ will reach a critical point on Sunday when the bill comes to a vote at the weekly cabinet meeting.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will oppose two measures scheduled for a vote tomorrow. “I will firmly oppose any legislative proposal which hurts the values of the State of Israel as laid down in the Declaration of Independence,” she said Saturday evening.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has also expressed his opposition to the proposal saying there were fundamental difficulties in the legislation which he could not endorse as the chief legal counselor to the government.
Last week, the justice minister utilized her authority as the chair of the ministerial committee on legislation to postpone debate of the sensitive proposal, after the prime minister expressed his support for the formulation presented to the committee.
The bill, presented by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), was too controversial for Livni, who considered the legislation as discriminatory towards Arab Israelis. The postponement of the debate infuriated Netanyahu, who announced he would “bypass” the committee and present the bill to the government.
Though the version of the bill supported by the prime minister will not be brought up for discussion, Netanyahu said the “Nationality Law that will be introduced in principle tomorrow in front of the government is essential to establish Israel as the national home of the Jewish people – especially in the face of international and domestic calls to undermine this basic determination.”
He emphasized: “Using this law, we will fortify the status of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and the full equality before the law of every citizen without discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or gender. Enshrining Israel’s identity as the national home of the Jewish people does not contradict full equality to every Israeli citizen, and will make it impossible to undermine these two fundamental principles.”
Three proposals will be presented at the meeting on Sunday, which will be approved subject to understandings to be reached later.
The first proposal, submitted by Coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin, states that Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people, which fulfills its desire for self-determination according to historical and cultural heritage, and that this right is unique to the Jewish people.
It reinforces the state symbols (the flag, the anthem, and seven-branch candelabrum) and includes a section which states that the Hebrew language is the official language of the country with Arabic only having a “special status.”
The third proposal, submitted by Netanyahu, will not be brought to a vote, as it has yet to be formulated. Netanyahu does not address the language issue and his proposal defines Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, which may lead to fierce resistance from within his own party.
Livni also raised a similar proposal last week. The Livni version also ignores any language-based definition and defines Israel as Jewish and democratic, but it also contains a clause addressing the full equality before the law for all Israeli citizens – setting it apart from the other two proposals.
On Saturday evening, Livni took to her Facebook page to express her position ahead of the scheduled vote. “Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. I will defend the values of the State of Israel as they were set in the Declaration of Independence and I will not offer my hand to help harm them. I support legislation which anchors these values, and I will resist any process or proposal which distorts them – as Elkin’s dangerous and anti-Zionist proposal does.
Most versions of the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People are not meant to be declarative; they seek to give the High Court of Justice something to consider when making rulings, in addition to democracy, as they would be basic laws, which the court gives constitutional standing.
After the cabinet authorizes Netanyahu’s incarnation of the constitutional provision, others – one by Elkin, another by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) and one by MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) – will be brought to preliminary votes in the Knesset on Wednesday.
After all three versions are approved, they will be combined into one bill in whichever Knesset committee reviews it.
Coalition parties agreed on how to move forward with the bill that sparked a crisis on Wednesday night, in a meeting with Livni, Elkin, Shaked, Calderon and Education Minister Shai Piron.
Netanyahu’s version of the legislation is very similar to the Elkin and Levin-Shaked initiatives, in that they focus on Israel as the site of self-determination for the Jewish people, but it avoids some of the more controversial articles of the private member bills, such as the status of Arabic or settlement construction.
Livni’s brief variation of the bill, drafted on Monday in response to sparring in the coalition but dropped following the agreement, reads: “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people in which it exercises its right to self-determination, democracy based on principles of freedom, justice and peace, and has equality for all of its citizens.”
The prime minister’s proposal does not mention equality for all citizens, though there are other basic laws guaranteeing that right.
The Netanyahu bill, like Elkin’s, states that holy places must be protected from “anything that could harm the freedom of access by religions to the places that are sacred to them or to their sentiments toward those places.” This could support assertions that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.
Just as the Elkin and Levin- Shaked versions do, the prime minister’s proposal also reinforces the “Hatikva” as the national anthem, state symbols, use of the Hebrew calendar and the Law of Return.