Israeli Cabinet Approves Bill Defining Nation State of Jewish People

Binyamin Netanyahu

A contentious bill that officially defines Israel as the state of Jewish people was recently approved by the cabinet amid concerns that the move risks compromising the nation’s democratic character. Critics, including some members of the cabinet, believe the new legislation reserves the country’s rights for Jews only and no minorities. A human rights group also labeled the move as racist.

The bill is intended to be made one of Israel’s basic laws that would help promote the country’s Jewish culture, institutionalize Jewish law as the root of all legislation and unmark Arabic as the country’s second official language. However, Arab Muslims and Christians comprise at least 20 percent of Israel’s current population.

The cabinet passed the bill last week by a 14-7 majority after reports of heated exchanges during the meeting started to surface. Those reported clashing during the meeting were Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Those who opposed the bill include Israel’s attorney general and two of the comparatively centrist parties that constitute Netanyahu’s brittle coalition. Both parties believe the bill is being forced against the nation’s interest because of the upcoming primaries in Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.

All critics have said the proposed wording is likely to weaken Israel’s declaration of independence, which says the new state would be formed on the basis of justice, liberty and freedom expressed by the prophets of Israel and confirms complete political and social equality to all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or gender.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, too, opposed the bill, saying he had spoken to the family of Zidan Saif, a Druze police officer who was killed in the recent synagogue attack that took place in Jerusalem.

“What will we tell his family? That he is a second-class citizen in the state of Israel because someone has primaries in the Likud?” he asked.

But Netanyahu argued the proposed law was absolutely necessary since people from across the world have been questioning the idea of Israel being home to Jewish people.

“There are many who are challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people. The Palestinians refuse to recognize this and there is also opposition from within. There are those, including those who deny our national rights, who would like to establish autonomy in the Galilee and the Negfev. Neither do I understand those who are calling for two states for two peoples but who also oppose anchoring this in law. They are pleased to recognize a Palestinian national state but strongly oppose a Jewish national state,” he said.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also expressed concern, saying the new law would prioritize  Israel’s Jewish character at the cost of its existing democratic trait. Since several basic laws in Israel use the words Jewish and democratic interchangeably, giving equal importance to both, the new law would obviously enshrine only the Jewish traits of the country.

Netanyahu also confirmed there would be different sets of laws for Israeli Jews and other minorities. While everyone would be privy to equal civil rights, the national rights would concern Jewish people only, he said. These include the country’s flag, national anthem, national symbols and the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel.

The bill, however, still needs the Knesset’s approval to be passed as a law.

Photo Credits: Daily Stormer



Casper Rigsby

People tell me often that Israel is the center of democracy and freedom in the middle east. That Israel is a beacon for equality and justice. That there is no religious war going on between Israel and Palestine. And yet all I see on both sides is this same bullshit and rhetoric. Every move made on both sides just furthers the escalation and no one wants peace except for a handful of secularists on both sides who run the risk of being murdered by either side.

This move will only make things worse, but I'm beginning to think that's exactly what Israel wants.

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