At the end of a marathon debate in recent days and following 24 lengthy meetings to hammer it out, the joint Knesset committees of the House Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday morning approved for second and third readings at the plenum the proposed Basic Law: Israel – the Nation-State of the Jewish People by a majority of 8 to 7 MKs. An earlier request for last-minute revisions was rejected by a vote of 9 to 7.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) reacted to the vote, saying, “We announce with astonishment the death of our democracy which has been dying in recent years and suffered from exclusion and racism, until it reached the deepest abyss. The funeral will take place today at the plenum, time not yet known.”
The Basic Law enshrines the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland as their unique right. It sets the symbols of the state, declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Hebrew as the language of the state. It adopts the principle of the ingathering of the exiles and the legal status of Shabbat and the Jewish festivals.
In addition, the bill anchors the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and states that the state will endeavor to ensure the well-being of the Jewish people and of its citizens who are in distress due to their Jewish identity or their citizenship. The state will also act in the Diaspora to preserve the connection with the Jewish people and to preserve their heritage.
The bill establishes the constitutional status of the Jewish calendar as the state’s official calendar, and sanctions Independence Day and the Jewish holidays.
A controversial item, known as the separate settlement clause, was removed from the original bill. The original language stated that “every resident of Israel without distinction of religion and nationality is entitled to act to preserve his culture, education, heritage and identity,” and that “the State may allow a community, including members of one religion or of one nationality, to maintain a separate communal settlement.”
The new version states that “the State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”
The Committee accepted the reservation expressed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) who wished to add the word “religious” to the basic principles of “the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people where it realizes its natural, cultural and historical right to self-determination.”
The committee decided not to include a section in the original bill that encourages judges to apply the principles of Jewish law in case of a lacuna – when the legislator has not offered a suitable law.