Netanyahu Defends Controversial Bill

YERUSHALAYIM -

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended on Tuesday the proposed law declaring Israel the Jewish nation-state against critics who say it will harm democracy and further inflame the Palestinians.

“Israel is an exemplary democratic country — that is the way it was and the way it will be. A country that anchors personal equal rights for each of its citizens,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka as part of the annual government-to-government meeting between Israeli and Czech cabinet ministers.

The prime minister also reiterated that recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation is the basis of any future peace accord with the Palestinians.

In response, Hamas threatened on Monday that the bill could lead to a “religious war” in the region. The Mufti of Yerushalayim Mohamed Hussein also chimed in, claiming that it “exposes Israel’s racist face and could ignite a religious war.”

An editorial on Tuesday  called the prospect of such a law “heartbreaking,” and compared it to discrimination against blacks in America.

Although the paper acknowledged that the proposal would probably undergo significant watering down before it reaches the Knesset plenum, it argued that given the explosive situation, the bill was mistimed. “Any measure that claims a pre-eminent status for Jews can only add fuel to the fire,” it warned.

Responding to an expression of concern about the future of Israeli democracy from the State Department, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio on Tuesday that the Americans should stay out of it.

“I say to the Americans: We will manage the matters of the state of Israel ourselves,” Bennett said.

“We need to deal with the significance of which type of state we want. Do we want here the massive entry of foreigners into Israel? Do we want the erosion in the future of the Galil or the Negev, which may have an Arab majority and could have nationalistic demands? We’re the ones who have to deal with these questions.”

Bennett explained that the law is necessary to correct an imbalance which puts the rights of the individual over the definition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people.
He said that the High Court is not taking this value into account during its rulings and therefore it must be written into the Basic Law.

On Tuesday night, President Reuven Rivlin suggested that before tampering with such a sensitive constitutional issue, it should be submitted to a national referendum.

Although, as president, Rivlin is not supposed to involve himself in politics, he took the opportunity of a speech to the annual Conference of the Office of the Attorney General in Eilat to state his opinion: He’s against it.