Bill officially defining Israel as a Jewish state gets government backing


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli government ministers approved a bill that would officially define Israel as a Jewish state.

The legislation unanimously passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday and is scheduled to get a preliminary hearing by the full Knesset on Wednesday. A similar bill was first proposed in 2011 and again in 2015.

The so-called Nationality Law is intended to serve as Basic Law, similar to a constitutional law, and would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.

It addresses national symbols, including the flag and the national anthem, the right of return for Jews, holy sites and the Hebrew calendar. It also calls for the government to work to strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

According to the legislation, “every resident of Israel, without distinction of religion or national origin, is entitled to work to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity.”

The bill would demote Arabic from an official language to one with special status, though government services would still have to be available in the language.

Following the preliminary vote by the Knesset, the bill will be combined with a Justice Ministry version. The ministry has 60 days to draft its own version.

“The Nationality Law is critical in a time like this, when elements from within and without are trying to reject the Jewish people’s right to a national home in its country and the recognition of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” said Likud party lawmaker Avi Dicther, who first proposed the legislation, according to Ynet.

“The Palestinian aspiration to eliminate the Jewish people’s nation-state is no longer secret. The State of Israel, which demands of its enemies to recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people and justifiably asks its supporters in the world to back this demand, needs to be able to declare in its highest legislative level that it proudly maintains this identify.”

Joint Arab List party head Ayman Odeh in a statement following the vote called the committee’s approval of the bill a “declaration of war” on Israel’s Arab citizens.

“Discrimination has received a legal stamp,” he said. “The danger in this law in that is establishes two classes of citizen – Jewish and Arab.”

Recommended from JTA