Bill defining Israel as ‘Jewish nation-state’ passes first reading in Knesset

A bill that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while recognizing the civil rights of each citizen regardless of religion, passed its first legislative hurdle.

By: World Israel News Staff

The Knesset on Monday approved a bill titled “Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People” in its first reading, with 64 Members of Knesset (MK) supporting the proposal and 50 lawmakers voting against it.

The bill, which was drafted by MK Avi Dichter and other lawmakers, will now be transferred to a special committee chaired by MK Amir Ohana for preparations for its second and third readings.

The bill seeks to anchor in Israel’s Basic Laws, which are similar to provisions of the US Constitution, the following: the definition of Israel as the Jewish and democratic nation-state of the Jewish people; the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their historic homeland, as well as recognition of the state’s official symbols; Jerusalem as the country’s capital, with Hebrew as its official language and Arabic as a language with special status; and the principle of “the gathering of exiles” and Jewish immigration to the state.

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In addition, the proposal anchors Israel’s connection with Diaspora Jewry and the right to preserve a heritage for all residents of Israel, regardless of religion or nationality. The bill establishes the Hebrew calendar as the state’s official calendar and the commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day, the Jewish holidays, and the days of remembrance in the Basic Law.

Although the bill distinctly defines the state of Israel as a vehicle for the Jewish people to exercise national self-determination, the legislation also recognizes that “every resident of Israel, regardless of religion or national origin, is entitled to work to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity.”

Presenting the bill to the Knesset plenum, Dichter said the bill “is the insurance policy we will leave behind for future generations. The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people.”

“That is a clear, hard fact, but despite it all—70 years on—it is unfortunately not yet clear to everyone, and certainly has not been anchored in any law,” he added.

MK Ahmad Tibi, of the Joint Arab List, claimed incorrectly that “what the law actually declares is that there are two kinds of citizens. One group comprised of Jews that has rights, and the other comprised of tolerable guests. The law practically determines Jews-only communities. If that’s not racism, I don’t know what is.”

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Addressing criticism levied against the proposal, Dichter explained that “each individual [citizen] has rights as an individual, and the law does not address the rights of a populace or a resident as individuals, but rather the national character of the country. I think quite a few of the law’s detractors have failed to actually read it.”

Concluding the debate, Minister Yariv Levin said that “this is a historic night in which the wheels are beginning to move back in the right direction. The retreat from the basic values of the founders of the state has been stopped, and we are bringing the State of Israel back to what it was on its first day – a national home for the Jewish people which offers full individual equal rights, which are not violated by the existing version of the law.”