Ministers Squabble Over Jewish State Law

Heated debate, arguing erupts in Knesset Cabinet meeting on 'Jewish State' law, ahead of pivotal vote on Israel's identity.

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Hezki Baruch and Tova Dvorin,

Netanyahu and Livni
Netanyahu and Livni
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Sunday's Cabinet meeting has devolved into petty arguments between Ministers, Arutz Sheva has learned, ahead of a monumental vote on the "Jewish State" bill to concretize Israel's national identity. 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) apparently began the row, noting that he had to compromise on the principles of the law after a veto from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua).

"If Livni had acted differently, we would not have this situation today," Netanyahu stated. "[Livni] doesn't behave like this with other laws."

Livni responded by asking if that was a snide remark regarding the controversial Israel Hayom bill, which banned free newspapers from circulation in a highly controversial move seen as a direct blow to Netanyahu. Israel Hayom is owned by philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, who is considered to be a friend and supporter of Netanyahu. The newspaper's detractors and competitors claim that it is overly protective of Netanyahu – who is often condemned by the rest of Israel's press. 

Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid) then jumped into the fray.

"This is not the time," Perry stated to Netanyahu. "I know you and know that you know how to be responsible. This proposal would harm the fabric of [Israeli-Palestinian] relations."

Netanyahu responded by noting that the problem is an issue not only of national identity, but also security.

"It cannot be that Arabs can live in all communities and Jews can not live in Arab communities," he stated. "What is evolving here is a state within a state."

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) built on remarks he made earlier Sunday, telling Netanyahu that "Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion" would not accept the Jewish State bill. 

The spat follows heightened tensions in the coalition over the law, as well as over its compromises. 

According to a compromise reached between Netanyahu (Likud) and MKs Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), Yariv Levin (Likud), and Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), the government will vote on two of the bills falling under the umbrella proposal to make Israel the official Jewish state, and in exchange the three MKs will agree to merge their versions of the bills with "lighter" versions proposed by Netanyahu.

The two bills by the three MKs, which are similar in their principles, effectively raise the Jewish influence on the legal system, elevating it over the "democratic" elements of Israel's identity as a "democratic and Jewish state."

The proposal, in practice, would see Hebrew defined as the only official language and Arabic relegated to a language with "special status"; concretize the Jewish star and holidays as national symbols and holidays; and define Israel as a state which "endeavors to settle Jews within its borders" - leaving out Israeli Arabs, detractors claim. 

Netanyahu's counter-proposal would reduce the law's efficacy to make the Jewish elements of the law equal to but not higher than the "democratic" character of Israel, and emphasizes that "the State will allow anyone in Israel, regardless of religion, race, or nationality, to preserve their culture, heritage, and identity." It also leaves out the definition of Hebrew as the official language and the clause on Jews settling within its borders. 

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu urged the ministers to put their pettiness aside, after several leftist MKs fumed publicly over the issue.

"Around the nationality law, and around other issues, I hear ultimatums, diktat and threats of quitting from various parts of the coalition; a country cannot be run this way," he stressed. "We must concentrate on strengthening security against waves of extremist Islam and the Iranian nuclear danger, on strengthening Israel's economy and increasing citizens' welfare – and not on threats. I believe that the heads of the parties in the coalition will unite and work in this spirit."








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