A new bill that defines Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people has sparked criticism and seen as undermining the democratic character of the country, as well as fostering discrimination against Muslim and Christian minorities.
If the Jewish homeland proposal becomes law, it would mean “the institutionalization of racism, which is already a reality on the street, in both law and at the heart of the political system,” Majd Kayyal of Adalah, from the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, November 23.
“Democracy guarantees that all citizens have the same rights and are equal before the state, but this racist change introduces a distinction on the basis of religion.”
Approved on Sunday, the controversial bill revokes the “Jewish and democratic” status of Israel, identified in its basic law, changing it to “the national homeland of the Jewish people”.
“The cabinet today approved a draft basic law: ‘Israel the national state of the Jewish people” said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, one of whose MPs was a sponsor.
Ministers from the two centrist parties, HaTnuah led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, were among the six ministers who voted against the proposal.
Supports of the bill, 14 ministers, were led by the right-wing including Netanyahu who claimed the new law would guarantee “equality” for all citizens.
“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic,” Netanyahu said.
“Both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree.”
Since its approval, the new bill has been drawing rebuke from both Israeli politicians and Arabs rights groups.
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has vehemently criticized the bill, warning that it damages the democratic character of the country.
“It’s very problematic to me that the government supports [private members’ bill] proposals which raise serious problems,” Weinstein argues in a legal opinion published by the Walla news site.
Netanyahu’s planned proposal carries “significant changes in the founding principles of constitutional law as anchored in the Declaration of Independence and in the basic laws of the Knesset, which can flatten the democratic character of the state,” the Attorney General stated.
Labeling it anti-democratic, critics of the proposal said that it “institutionalizes discrimination” only.
“However, that declaration also emphasizes the Jewish State’s absolute commitment to the equality of all of its citizens as an essential component missing from the proposals being presented to the government today,” the Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner said.
A preliminary ratification of the bill is expected next Wednesday, November 26, by the Knesset.
“The bill will pass a preliminary reading in the Knesset this Wednesday and will be revised to conform with a government bill which will be drafted and approved by the cabinet soon,” Likud statement said.
Israeli Arabs, who make up nearly a fifth of the population, are descendants of those who stayed when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by Zionist gangs in1948, when Israel was founded on the rubble of Palestine.
Relations between Israel’s Jews and Arabs have long been difficult, with Arabs complaining of discrimination.
A recent Israel Democracy Institute poll found that nearly half of Jewish Israelis don’t want to live next door to Arabs, foreigners or mentally ill.
In December 2010, dozens of Jewish rabbis issued an edict against renting or selling real estate to non-Jews, particularly Arab citizens.
Earlier on October 2010, the Israeli government approved an amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Act that would require all non-Jews taking Israeli citizenship to pledge loyalty to the “Jewish and democratic state of Israel”. ONISLAM