Attorney general opposes Israel’s ‘Jewish state’ draft law
Yehuda Weinstein says the proposed legislation harms Israel’s perceived democratic character
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday came out strongly against a cabinet-backed draft law to consider Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
The cabinet on Sunday approved the controversial draft law, which combines two texts – one by MKs Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin, and the other by MK Zeev Elkin.
Attorney General Weinstein, the government's legal adviser, criticized the proposal, saying it weakens the state's democratic character.
The problem with the bill, according to him, is that it separates the term "Jewish and democratic state" into two separate clauses, Times of Israel reported.
This way the bill would be different from Israel's other Basic Laws, and Weinstein fears this could damage the country's democratic character.
Both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and five Yesh Atid ministers also opposed the proposal, which still needs parliament approval to become a law.
The bill will be incorporated into a new “softened” version that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to present later this week, the Israeli media reported.
But the attorney general warned that even the new version has “significant changes” in Israel’s democratic character.
He says the bill should be put presented as a government bill, which means undergoing more serious examination, according Israel Radio.
“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.
He wrote that 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 proposal that was backed by the cabinet on Sunday calls for recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation, and delisting Arabic as an official language.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and strongly oppose the bill.
If the 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,” warned Majd Kayyal of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
“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,” he said.
Denis Charbit, a political scientist at Israel’s Open University, predicted that a final version of the text is likely to be more moderate.
“This is a political charade. Netanyahu knows that voting on an unacceptable bill which has been criticized by the government’s legal adviser is extremely problematic,” he told AFP.
“The text proposed by Netanyahu is more moderate but it is still problematic because he disassociates the Jewish character from the democratic character of the state and this institutionalizes a hierarchy between them, to the detriment of democracy.”