Bill sparks fears for Israel democracy
A controversial bill making its way through Israel’s parliament has sparked fierce debate over the foundations of democracy in the country and drawn criticism that it will deny equal rights to nonJewish citizens.
Yesterday, the Israeli government edged closer to approving the so-called “nation-state bill” aimed at boosting Israel’s Jewish character. Proposed by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party and supported by much of his right- wing coalition, the bill clarifies in about a dozen points Israel’s purpose as “a national home for the Jewish people” and pinpoints its national symbols.
It could be voted into law as soon as next week.
The thrust of the proposed legislation is similar to the Declaration of Independence signed by Israel’s founders in 1948, except that document also underscored the democratic values of the state, giving the country’s Arab inhabitants “equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions”.
In contrast, the nation-state bill would be a basic law with constitutional status which downgrades Arabic to a “special status” instead of an official language. Arabic is spoken by 20 per cent of the population.
The bill also includes a clause enabling the creation of homogenous communities based on religion and nationality. Clause 7B has been widely condemned as antidemocratic and racist by opposition lawmakers, members of the Arab community and human rights groups. It has also drawn criticism from some aligned with the Israeli leadership.
President Reuven Rivlin expressed concern about the clause in a letter to Netanyahu, saying the law has no balance and “could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world and in Israel”.
The Knesset’s legal adviser and representatives of the attorney general’s office have expressed similar concerns.
The new nation-state bill was proposed by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.