Debate over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jewish nation-state bill intensified on midweek when President Reuven Rivlin, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan all came out against it.
The bill, which is aims to define Israel’s character as the nation-state of the Jewish people, was approved by cabinet after heated debate.
Opposition came from coalition partners including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, representing Hatnuah and Yesh Atid respectively, while Netanyahu’s right-wing allies pushed for it to become law.
Lapid has taken issue with the fact that Netanyahu did not promise complete equality to all citizens, instead outlining “principles” that guaranteed the civil rights of all citizens “according to law”.
Critics say the bill, in its various versions, would entrench discrimination in a country where 25% of the population are not Jewish. Those concerns were shared by Rivlin, himself a right-winger from Netanyahu’s Likud.
Addressing a conference in Eilat, Rivlin said the authors of the Declaration of Independence “in their great wisdom, insist that the Arab public in Israel not feel like the Jews felt in the Diaspora”.
He said the Declaration “bound together two components of the state as Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish.”
He also said that when “nearly a quarter of first-graders are Arab and a fifth ultra-Orthodox” using the term “minority” was “wrong and misleading”. They were, he said, “citizens, flesh of this land, which is their homeland.”
Adding to the pressure on the prime minister, the Attorney General said legislation “dealing with the core of the constitutional regime in the State of Israel, should be legislated by the government, not in private members’ bills”.
Meanwhile Nitzan said the bill “should not be passed, not in this form and not at this time,” appearing to echo widespread criticism of Netanyahu, who is accused of political opportunism in the run-up to the Likud primaries.