Bill sparks fears for Is­rael democ­racy

Hawke's Bay Today - - WORLD - Is­rael Thai­land

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.

PHOTO / AP

The new na­tion-state bill was pro­posed by mem­bers of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s rul­ing Likud party.

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