Articles by 1) Barak Ravid, Haaretz; 2) Times of Israel; 3) Peter Beaumont, Guardian. Plus Notes and links at foot.
Israeli Arabs protesting on Land Day, 2010. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
Netanyahu: Israel is home to one people – Jewish
Prime minister says all citizens are treated equally, but Jews have natural right to nation-state; wording to be formulated in collaboration with all members of the coalition.
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
May 04, 2014
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that while all Israeli citizens deserved equal rights, the state itself was the homeland of just the Jewish people and should be enshrined as such, elaborating on his proposal last week to enact legislation to define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Netanyhau told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem: “Israel gives full equal rights to all its citizens, but it is the nation-state of one people – the Jewish people – and no other. To fortify Israel’s standing as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I intend to spearhead the legislation of a Basic Law that will enshrine this status.”
“Israel is a Jewish and democratic state,” Netanyahu said. “Our Basic Laws give full expression to the democratic aspect of the state. We do this by giving full equal rights to each and every citizen. The Basic Laws do this by means of two main laws – the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation.
“However,” Netanyahu added, “Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people is not given sufficient expression in our Basic Laws, and this is what the proposed Basic Law is meant to do.”
“It will define the national right of the Jewish people to the state of Israel, without infringing on the individual rights of any citizen of Israel. It will fortify the standing of the Law of Return as a Basic Law, it will anchor in the Basic Laws the standing of the national symbols – the flag, the national anthem, the language and other components of our national being,” he said. “These components are under relentless and increasing attack from abroad, and even at home.”
“Of course, there are those who don’t want Israel to be defined as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” the prime minister went on to say. “They want to see a Palestinian nation-state arise alongside us, and for Israel to gradually become a bi-national, Arab-Jewish state, within its narrow borders. But I say one simple thing: You can’t hold the national stick by both ends. You can’t say that you want to separate from the Palestinians in order to avoid a bi-national state, an argument that has a certain logic to it, and meanwhile sanctify a bi-national, Jewish-Arab state in Israel’s permanent borders.”
“The law will be formulated in collaboration with all members of the coalition, so as to preserve Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state,” Netanyahu said, adding: “I want to make clear that this is not about politics. In the previous term, when the opposition brought up a similar proposal, I immediately announced my support for it.”
In recent years, “nation-state laws” has become a code name for laws designed to compel the High Court to prioritize the state’s Jewish identity over its democratic identity. People who were involved in the formulation of Netanyahu’s declaration said that the exact wording for the law has yet to be determined, but that he definitely intends to follow through with the plan.
Over the past few years, Netanyahu has taken steps to thwart a vote on a number of controversial bills on this issue, including MK Yariv Levin and Habayit Hayehudi faction chairman MK Ayelet Shaked’s bill that was recently put before the Knesset. Inter alia, the bill – a relatively moderate version of the bill proposed in the previous Knesset by former MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) – called for not granting Arabic status as an official language. The new version states that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people and that the right to realize this national self-definition in Israel is reserved for the Jewish people.
Following the prime minister’s announcement on the subject last week, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was highly critical of the move. “We will absolutely not allow the state’s democratic values to be infringed, weakened or made subordinate to the Jewish values. This is the essence of the Scroll of Independence and the basis of our existence. The justice minister has previously opposed such initiatives and will do the same again, even if the proposal is coming from the prime minister,” said a spokesperson for Livni.
Livni’s people said that if the proposal infringes on democracy in any way, she will block it, “unless it finds a correct balance between the democratic and Jewish values without weakening Israel’s democracy one iota.” They added that “if it turns out to be a Yariv Levin-type of bill, Livni will block it in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.”
Netanyahu tells cabinet his Basic Law proposal, enshrining Israel as Jewish people’s nation-state, will define Jewish rights without harming individuals
By Haviv Rettig Gur, Times of Israel
May 04, 2014
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his promise on Sunday to advance a constitutional Basic Law expressly identifying Israel as a Jewish nation-state.
Speaking at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu rebuffed criticism of the plan, saying the state currently lacked “adequate expression” of Israel’s “existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people” in the country’s set of Basic Laws.
“It will define the national right of the Jewish people to the State of Israel, and will do so without harming the individual rights of all Israeli citizens in the State of Israel,” he said. “It will fortify the Law of Return as a Basic Law. It will anchor in Basic Laws the status of the national symbols – the flag, the anthem, the language and other components of our national existence.”
Explaining the immediate trigger for the bill, Netanyahu said Israel’s Jewish status is under “constant and increasing assault from the outside, and even from within.”
Israel does not have a constitution, but the country’s set of Basic Laws have been given the standing of one by the courts.
With no basic law to protect Palestinian children, can Israel ever be a morally Jewish state? Israeli security officer arrests 13-year-old Palestinian boy. Photo by Saeed Qaq / APA images)
As he did when announcing the legislative campaign Thursday, Netanyahu tied the new bill to the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state.
“There are of course those who do not want the State of Israel to be defined as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he told the cabinet ministers. “They want to establish a Palestinian nation-state next to us, and that Israel slowly transform into a binational Arab-Jewish state in its shrunken borders.
“The State of Israel grants equal rights, full individual rights, to all its citizens. But it is the nation-state of one nation only – the Jewish nation – and not of any other nation. Therefore, in order to fortify Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people I intend to lead the legislation of a Basic Law that will anchor this status,” he said.
Netanyahu first proposed the new initiative at a Thursday press event in Tel Aviv. His announcement immediately sparked debate between the right-wing and center-left elements of his coalition on balancing the Jewish identification of the state with the country’s democratic constitutional commitments. Netanyahu signaled on Sunday that he welcomed the debate, and that all sides would be heard.
“The new law will be drafted in a dialogue with all elements of the coalition, so that it protects the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said.
Jerusalem’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state had been one of the major sticking points in the recently ended round of peace negotiations, with Netanyahu saying he will never sign an agreement without it and the Palestinians refusing adamantly.
Even outside the framework of peace negotiations, Netanyahu’s plan is likely to cause controversy, as some 20 percent of Israel’s population is not Jewish.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.
PM proposes rare change to basic law in response to ‘constant and increasing assault’ on aspects of Israel’s legitimacy
By Peter Beaumont, theguardian.com
May 04 (05 print edition), 2014
Jerusalem–Binyamin Netanyahu will push ahead with a rare change to Israel’s basic laws – which amount to the country’s constitution – to insist Israel is “the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people”.
At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the civil rights of minorities, including Arabs, would be guaranteed, and the move was vital at a time when aspects of Israel’s legitimacy were “under a constant and increasing assault from abroad and at home”.
Netanyahu proposed the change last week during a visit to Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, attracting fierce criticism from political rivals and support from some of his allies. The move follows a Palestinian refusal in peace talks to recognise the status that Netanyahu described.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem at being expected to do military service – otherwise a basic requirement of all Jews in Israel. Palestinians contribute considerably more to the economy than most of the Ultra-Orthodox do. Photograph: Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua Press/Corbis
The proposed law would be in addition to Israel’s declaration of independence of May 1948 – the anniversary of which is celebrated on Tuesday – which defines Israel as a Jewish state.
Most of Israel’s basic laws deal with procedural issues relating to elections, the appointment of the prime minister, state payments and the administration of the judiciary, but some laws have been more controversial, including the 1980 law that designated Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Despite the intention that the new law should guarantee full equal rights, critics say it strays into contentious territory in its explicit definition which, regardless of passport and citizenship, would codify a differential notion of nationhood.
Netanyahu laid out his rationale for the change at the cabinet meeting. “The state of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Our basic laws give full expression to the democratic side of the state,” he said. “On the other hand, that the state of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people is not sufficiently expressed in our basic laws, and this is what the draft basic law is meant to provide.
“The state of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status.”
He added: “Of course, there are those who do not want the state of Israel to be defined as the nation state of the Jewish people. They want a Palestinian nation state to be established alongside us and that Israel should gradually become a binational, Arab-Jewish state inside shrunken borders. But I simply say that one cannot hold the national stick at both of its national ends.
“They cannot say that they want to separate from the Palestinians in order to prevent a binational state, which has a certain logic, and also sanctify a binational, Jewish-Arab state within the permanent borders of the state of Israel.”
Among those who have expressed concern over the proposal is the justice minister, Tzipi Livni. Although in favour of defining Israel more clearly in law as “the national home of the Jewish people and a democratic state”, she has expressed opposition to “any law that gives superiority” to the Jewish nature of state over the country’s democratic values.
She said she could only support legislation where “Jewish and democratic would have the same weight, not more Jewish than democratic, nor more democratic than Jewish”.
Her remarks echoed those of the Labour party leader, Isaac Herzog, last week when the idea was first floated. “With all its being, the Labour party supports Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said. “Labour built the state and its leaders formulated the declaration of independence, the foundational document that anchors Israel as a Jewish state.
“Unfortunately, the diplomatic destruction Netanyahu is causing will lead Israel to lose its Jewish majority and become a binational state. This unfortunate fact is something no law can hide.”
Notes and links
For a detailed critique of the previous attempt by MKs Yariv Levin, Ayelet Shaked and Robert Iltuv to introduce a Basic Law amendment (no. P/19/1550, tabled 22 July 2013) defining Israel as a Jewish state, see section five of Adalah’s Discriminatory Bills in the 19th Israeli Knesset, 2013. Thanks to Miri Weingarten for information
See, as one report amongst many of Arab protests at Israel being defined as a Jewish state,
Israel’s Arabs must find new ways to be heard Ziyad Abou Habla, Haaretz (premium), April 2013.