Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People

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Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (Hebrew: הצעת חוק יסוד: ישראל - מדינת הלאום של העם היהודי‎) is an Israeli bill which seeks to determine the nature of the state of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

The bill was submitted by MK Avi Dichter of the Kadima party and has received the support of another 39 Knesset members who consists of both members of the coalition and the opposition alike. The bill is currently in early legislative stages and still has not passed a preliminary reading.

Overview[edit]

On 3 August 2011, Dichter filed, together with another 39 Knesset members, the proposed Basic Law proposal: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People[1] which seeks to determine the nature of the state of Israel as the Jewish people, and as such it interprets the term "Jewish and democratic state" which appears in the Israeli basic laws Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. According to the proposal, Israel will be defined as the nation state of the Jewish people, and in order to prevent Israel from becoming a Binational state, the proposal says that the right to self-determination in Israel would be unique to the Jewish people. The proposal also states that the state of Israel should establish ethnic communities where every resident can preserve its culture and heritage, that the Hebrew language would be considered the only official language of the state of Israel (while the Arabic language would be of a special status), that the Hebrew calendar would become the official calendar of the state of Israel, and that the Hebrew law would serve as an inspiration to Israeli legislators. The bill is currently in early legislative stages and still has not passed a preliminary reading.

The bill's clauses[edit]

  • Sections 1–2 of the bill detail the principles for which the law was established: "Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people in which the Jewish people fulfill their ambition to self-determination according to their cultural and historical legacy."
  • Section 3 regulates the state's symbols – the flag, the anthem and the Emblem of Israel.
  • Section 4 stipulates that Hebrew is the only official language of the state of Israel while the Arabic language would be of a "special status".
  • Section 5 establishes the Law of Return as part of Israel's Basic Laws.
  • Sections 6–7 deal with the relations between the state of Israel and the Jewish diaspora as well as Israel's responsibility for in-gathering world Jewry.
  • Sections 8–9 deal with the state's obligation to preserve the Jewish heritage.
  • Sections 10–12 regulate the Hebrew calendar, holidays and memorial days.
  • Section 13 provides that in a case of a laconic phrase in the Israeli law, the Israeli court system would use the Jewish law as a source of inspiration.
  • Section 14 deals with the state's obligation to protect the holy places of all faiths located within the territory of Israel.

Public debate[edit]

The law proposal caused a lot of controversy in the Israeli public and media. An editorial in the Haaretz newspaper claimed that this law proposal would severely harm the Israeli democracy and the rights of the minorities.[2] The proposal was criticized by various Israeli political figures and academic figures, especially on the left of the political spectrum, such as Professor Amnon Rubinstein and the Speaker of the Israeli Labor party MK Shelly Yachimovich.

Yacimovich published a response letter to Dichter in July 2011 in which she wrote that she identifies with most of Dichter's proposal which she considers to be in the consensus among the Israeli public, because half of the bill's clauses "are anchored in one way or another in the existing legislation" and the clauses whom are not who do not, constitute "social conventions and cultural whom have a consensus amongst the "Zionist camp": The flag, the emblem, the anthem, the Law of Return, the Protection law of the Holy Places, the Hebrew language, the Jewish calendar, the Israeli Independence Day and the Israeli Memorial Day, the Declaration of Independence and the like. However, Yacimovich opposed the timing of the proposal's submission, opposed the essential idea that if Israel would be better defined as a Jewish state in its laws it would help legitimize Israel as such internationally, opposed the proposal's section 9 (the state's obligation to preserve the Jewish heritage) and 13 (Jewish law). Therefore, she wrote that "although as noted above I identify with many of the components of the proposal, I can not support it".[3]

The proposal has been criticized even by people affiliated with the Israeli Right, such as the Minister and Likud Party MK Benny Begin.[4] Critics have argued that the proposed law raises difficult questions concerning the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and it may upset the delicate balance between the state's Jewish character and state's democratic character.

On 20 November 2011 a special discussion was held on the matter at the "Roundtable Forum in memory of George P. Shultz" (פורום השולחן העגול ע"ש ג'ורג' שולץ) which was sponsored by the Israeli Democracy Institute, and was attended by Avi Dichter and various Israeli public figures and prominent academic figures.[5][6]

On the other hand, the Israeli researchers Dovi Hellman and Adi Arbel from the Institute for Zionist Strategies research institution published a position paper in which they expressed their support in the proposal.[7] Professor Abraham Diskin also expressed a similar opinion.[8]

Dr. Aviad Bakshi, who was also a member in the IZS constitution team, published an article in which he stated that in practice Arabic is not the official language in Israel nowadays, and therefore the argument that the proposal would harm the status of the Arabic language is not valid.[9]

Israeli MK Dr. Einat Wilf from the Independence party published an article supporting the proposal which argued the advantages as a "correct and balanced" proposal because the state of Israel was established for one purpose only and that is - to be the national home of the Jewish people. This is the essence and raison d'être.

In response to the criticism Dichter stated that "the law proposal was created and designed for a year and a half, and that from the start the Jewish and democratic character of the state were balanced appropriately, and for this reason the proposal has gained the support from the entire political spectrum in Israel. 40 MKs have so far expressed their support in the bill proposal. Taking into account that 40 other MKs are ministers and deputy ministers can not express at this point their support of the bill propsoal, this means that half of the Knesset members support the proposal. Moreover, after the bill proposal was submitted to the Knesset yesterday, additional lawmakers sought to express their support of the bill proposal".

In response raised by MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and various other political regarding the declaration of the Hebrew language as the sole official language of the state, Dichter stated that the law enshrines the existing situation. Israel's official languages were defined as such by the British rule back in 1922 - back then the official languages were French, Arabic and Hebrew, in that order.[citation needed] Court rulings deal constantly with the permanent status of the language: the Hebrew language is defined as a language with a higher status than the Arabic language, and as the state's official language. Arabic on the other hand suffers from constant blurring of its status and lack of clarity about its accessibility to the native speakers of the language. According to the bill proposal the Arabic language would receive a special status which would require the state to enable accessibility to all native speakers of the language".[10]

See also[edit]

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