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Tags: israel | jewish | state | law

Israeli Government in Turmoil Over 'Jewish State' Law Clash

Monday, 24 November 2014 07:16 AM EST

Draft legislation that would anchor Israel’s status as a Jewish nation-state in law is headed for parliament, where it could bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

The cabinet yesterday approved two Jewish nation-state bills over the objection of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who say they threaten Israel’s democratic values and discriminate against its minorities, chiefly Arabs who form 20 percent of the population. Hawkish rivals to Netanyahu in his coalition have demanded such laws.

A first parliamentary vote on the proposals is scheduled for Nov. 26. If Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Livni’s Hatenuah quit the government to protest the bills -- or are fired for breaking coalition discipline by voting against them -- then Netanyahu would be forced to ally with new parties to maintain a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or call early elections.

Likud lawmaker Ofir Akunis, a Netanyahu confidant, said today that if Lapid and Livni vote against the bills in parliament, they will be booted from the cabinet.

“The Likud will cease to be the punching bag of its coalition partners,” Akunis, a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, said on Israel Radio. “Any minister who votes against the government will be dismissed,” he said, adding that his party is not afraid to go to early elections.

The coalition is due to reach the midpoint of its four-year term in late March.

Political Showdown

The political showdown comes as Netanyahu’s government is contending with a number of serious challenges, including attacks and violent protests by some Arab residents of Jerusalem, concern world powers will reach a deal with Iran allowing it to continue developing elements of its nuclear program with military potential, and a slowing economy.

“Netanyahu really believes in the law and probably calculates that Yesh Atid is more likely than Likud to suffer politically if new elections are called over this issue,” said Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “While I am certain every effort is being made to find a compromise, the odds are probably 50-50 the government is heading for a collapse.”

Recent polls have shown Yesh Atid losing half of its 19 seats in parliament if elections were to be held today. Livni’s Hatenuah, which now holds six seats, would also shrink.

Won’t Support

Lapid said yesterday that neither he nor Livni would support the law if it comes up for a vote Wednesday, even though they are obliged to do so under their coalition agreement with Netanyahu.

“Yesh Atid and I are for a nation-state bill, just not this nation-state bill,” Lapid said. “The bill submitted today to the government puts a Jewish state before democracy.” He didn’t say whether he or Livni would vote against the bill. They also have the option to abstain or skip the vote.

Education Minister Shai Piron of Yesh Atid told Army Radio he was hopeful a compromise formulation could be reached to avert a coalition crisis. Early elections wouldn’t benefit any of the partners, he said.

If Yesh Atid or Hatenuah exit the government, Netanyahu could try to forge a new coalition with the 18 lawmakers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism factions, Likud’s traditional governing partners. A coalition realignment would be more problematic if Yesh Atid and Hatenuah were to both leave, because Netanyahu would then control the slimmest parliamentary majority of 61 seats.

Israel’s Legitimacy

The prime minister has defended the Jewish nation-state bill as a necessary step to assert Israel’s legitimacy.

“There are many who challenge Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” the prime minister said before yesterday’s cabinet vote. “The Palestinians refuse to recognize it, and there is also opposition from within, those who want autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev,” he said, referring to areas where Israel’s Arab minority is concentrated.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence, drafted upon the country’s establishment in 1948, proclaimed “the establishment of a Jewish State in the land of Israel,” while promising “the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex.”

Precedents Stumbled

Efforts over the years to reinforce Israel’s Jewish identity through legislation has been opposed by civil libertarians who say the Declaration of Independence is sufficient and that legislation risks impinging on the equal rights of the country’s non-Jewish minorities. While they enjoy equal rights under the law, Israeli Arabs say they face discrimination.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has questioned the constitutionality of the Jewish nation-state draft legislation, describing it as “very problematic” and “diminishing democracy” in an e-mailed statement sent yesterday.


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Draft legislation that would anchor Israel's status as a Jewish nation-state in law is headed for parliament, where it could bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition. The cabinet yesterday approved two Jewish nation-state bills over the objection of...
israel, jewish, state, law
Monday, 24 November 2014 07:16 AM
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