Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, May 2017

By Baila Eisen

The controversial Nation-State bill, tabled by Likud Party MK Avi Dichter and currently making its way through Knesset, has sparked a sharp disagreement between the current Likud Knesset faction and scions of the party’s founding generation. The law would officially establish Israel as a Jewish state and would, among other things, remove Arabic’s status as an official language and allow communities to accept or reject residents based on national affiliation.

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Although a previous law allows communities to reject candidates who don’t fit their “cultural character,” the Nation-State bill is significant because it would allow for religious and national discrimination, and because it is being proposed as a Basic Law.

Miki Zohar, a current Likud MK and supporter of the measure, said the bill is necessary because both Jewish and Arab Israelis have the right to construct homogeneous communities, and added that nothing in the proposal is inherently racist

“In Israel today there is acknowledgement of the rights of certain populations to homogeneity, to live together without connecting to other populations. This is accepted in the State of Israel – what do you think would happen to a Jew that wanted to go and live in an Arab village?,” Zohar told Army Radio.

MK Amir Ohana added that the bill would be “the law of all laws.”

Members of the party’s founding generation – the Likud was founded as a political home for Revisionist Zionism – disagreed. President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, a scion of a prominent Revisionist Zionist family and disciple of the Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, slammed the law, saying that it “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world, and the State of Israel.

“This law, with all its complications, tries to reflect the delicate balance in Israel between being a Jewish and democratic country. The ongoing search to maintain and protect that balance is the Knesset’s highest obligation,” Rivlin added.

Dan Meridor, whose father Yaakov Meridor was a leader of the pre-state Irgun militia and a close confidant of Irgun commander (and later prime minister) Menachem Begin, seconded Rivlin’s comments.

“Rivlin is trying to preserve the values of Likud that, unfortunately, today’s Likud has forgotten,” Meridor said. “Begin’s and Rivlin’s Torah tries to preserve Likud values that unfortunately today’s (Likud Knesset members) have forgotten.

“The damage caused by this bill will affect us all. It will make us think, ‘Who are we? Are we really a people (who need such a terrible law)?’”

Supporters of the bill rejected the criticism, saying that they, rather than Rivlin and Meridor, were actually the ones carrying the torch of Revisionist values today. Miki Zohar said he believed that Menachem Begin would have been in favor of the bill because it promotes the essential Jewish character of the state.

“We are Begin’s inheritance,” he said. “Begin knew that this is a Jewish country, and he was always eager to defend that idea.”

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