Knesset enshrines Israel’s Jewish character in law

A majority of the Knesset’s 120 members voted in favor of a law that puts Israel’s Jewish character on the same footing with universal rights and democracy. 

By: World Israel News Staff

The Knesset passed the controversial nation-state law late Wednesday night, giving additional legal weight to Israel’s uniquely Jewish character.

A majority of 62 of a total of 120 Knesset members voted in favor of the bill with 55 opposed and two abstaining.

As a Basic Law, the nation-state law has quasi constitutional status. It was designed to balance other Basic Laws such as Human Dignity and Liberty, which have a more universal focus on asserting human rights irrespective of religion.

The nation-state law, in contrast, seeks to provide the judicial branch with a legal basis for making decisions that safeguard Israel’s Jewish character.

Laws such as the Right of Return, which provides all Jews in the world with automatic Israeli citizenship, or budgetary allotments that encourage Jewish settlement, will now have more firm legal basis, say proponents of the law.

Among the most vocal proponents of the law is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed to pass the legislation before the Knesset summer recess, which begins Thursday.

Netanyahu hailed the passage of the law as “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu said, “We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens.

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“This is our state, the Jewish state. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to put this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag.”

Critics, including President Reuven Rivlin, have claimed that earlier versions of the nation-state law, which legalized the creation of Jewish-only, Arab-only or other ethnically, religiously or culturally homogeneous communities, were discriminatory against Arabs and other minorities.

The law would have overturned the 2000 “Qadan” Supreme Court decision, which ruled it was unlawful for a Jewish Agency-built community called Katzir in northern Israel to prevent an Arab family from buying a home there.

However, this clause in the law was amended and now affirms the encouragement of Jewish settlements.

In addition to codifying Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people into Israel’s Basic Laws, it also establishes Hebrew as its sole official language while giving Arabic special standing.

The law declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state.