Nation-state bill to address Jewish-democratic imbalance
The coalition agreed on Thursday to make changes to the draft of the Jewish nation-state bill, in response to concerns that, in its current version, it could put religious law ahead of the laws passed by the Knesset.
The current text begins: “The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it realizes its aspiration for self-determination according to its cultural and historic heritage.” Soon after: “What is said in this Basic Law or any other object of legislation will be interpreted according to what is established in this article.”
Because the opening article doesn’t include a mention of democracy, lawmakers in the coalition and opposition said it could be interpreted to mean that Jewish “cultural and historical heritage,” that is religious law, or Halacha, came before all else in interpreting laws.
The special committee working on the bill plans to move up the wording of an existing article that says Israel is a democracy to the opening section of the bill, so that it will be part of how all other laws are interpreted.
Basic Law: Nation-State of the Jewish People declares that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and includes ideas of what that entails, including the national anthem and state symbol, having Shabbat and Jewish holidays as national days of rest, the Law of Return and commitment to Diaspora Jewry, and more.
Likud MK Amir Ohana, who heads the committee working on the bill, said “there is no drama” in the change.
“The Basic Law starts by saying clearly that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and theirs only,” Ohana said. “The suggested change is to anchor the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic county in the spirit of the Declaration of the Independence, a principle that appeared in the original bill and all of its drafts, in the article discussing the bill’s principles rather than its goals.”
In any case, Ohana pointed out, the committee will have to discuss the change before it is made.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who led the charge in the coalition to amend the bill, called it “excellent.”