Storm in Knesset Over Jewish State Law

Opposition MKs attack Netanyahu over his defense of the Jewish State bill; Herzog calls to establish new government.

Hezki Baruch and Tova Dvorin,

Netanyahu defends Jewish State Law
Netanyahu defends Jewish State Law
Miriam Alster/Flash90

Left-wing Knesset members disrupted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's special address on the cost of living Wednesday night, which was convened following the collection of over 40 MKs' signatures in support of a hearing on the issue. 

During the hearing, Netanyahu addressed a number of core issues which threaten to disrupt the basic cohesion of the coalition, including the Jewish State law and talk of bills which would permanently revoke the residency and citizenship of citizens involved in incitement against Israel and Jews.

"I would like to bring to the government a bill denying the residency rights for persons involved in terror, incitement and violence," Netanyahu stated. "We are determined to fight terrorism, to restore security to the residents of Israel in general and the inhabitants of Jerusalem in particular, and not just settle for sending [extra security] forces to prevent riots and demolish terrorists' homes."

"In Israel terrorists will not enjoy rights, as well as the families who support them, simply because they are residents of Israel," Netanyahu warned. "Those who glorify murder and call themselves martyrs will not enjoy social security and any social rights. This is absurd and this is an absurdity we're going to fix. "

Netanyahu also addressed the political firestorm surrounding the Jewish State Law, which aims to elevate the status of Jewish law and values in Israel.

"The Jewish State Law, as I have given it over, establishes that the state of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, where the principle of one is not larger than the other," he said. "Israel guarantees equal rights for individuals regardless of religion, race or gender."

Netanyahu did stress, however, that Israel remains the Jewish national homeland - even if it offers full rights and privileges to members of other faiths and ethnicities.

"Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish people alone," he maintained. "This combination of national rights of the Jewish people and the individual rights of citizens is the continuation of [values expressed in] basic documents that accompanied the creation of Israel. [Arthur] Balfour spoke about the need to establish a national home for the Jewish people, while maintaining civil and religious rights of all residents. The British Mandate ruled exactly in those terms, [and] so did the UN partition plan and the Declaration of Independence."

Netanyahu added the the Jewish State Law serves to clarify inconsistencies in the Basic Laws, specifically the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty. 

"For example, infiltrators who enter into the state of Israel, and the Palestinians who want family reunification - their rights conflict with our rights as a nation-state," he clarified. "This is an imbalance."

The Prime Minister then took a strong stance against leftist criticism.

"There are those who challenge the national rights of the Jewish people, inside and out; those who did not see it bury their heads in the sand," he said.

"It was enough to hear the MK Ghattas does not recognize the right [of the Jewish people to] one millimeter of the State of Israel," he continued, calling it "a fundamental [. . .] challenge to the State of Israel being a nation-state."

"I understand why Hamas is opposed to national law, but do not understand why some of the best my friends here are opposed," he added.

Netanyahu concluded by saying he was determined to ensure that the Jewish State Law passes the three readings necessary to ratify it into law. 

"This law will thwart attempts to harm the Jewish character of the state, flood Israel with Palestinian refugees and will deal with the phenomenon of infiltrators," he said. "This law is needed more than ever."

Netanyahu spoke after a long line of Opposition MKs attempted to disrupt the speech. 

MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) stood at the Knesset podium with a keffiyeh.

"What binds us to the homeland is being with the homeland," Ghattas said. "It is us being its landowners and its indigenous people, who became a victim of the ongoing colonial project and injustices of the occupation."

"This is what binds us to the homeland, and the dummy citizenship forced upon us in the Jewish state," he continued. "We, the Palestinian people living in their homeland [. . .][only] agree to accept real citizenship, in a democratic state for all its citizens - and not only to Jews."

Several other MKs, including MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor) and MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) were also forcibly removed from the plenum after making various incendiary remarks on the podium. 

Then, Opposition leader MK Yitzhak Herzog attacked Netanyahu and his policies as well. 

"Only a prime minister who lacks self-confidence, who has no vision and no plan, would need verbal hairsplitting in the national law to justify the sense of promoting what is already understood," Herzog fired. "This unnecessary law is not to strengthen the country - but introduces the danger of its demise as a democratic and egalitarian state."

Herzog maintained that Netanyahu's laws regularly contradict the public interest. 

"Bibi, Israel sticks with you and you are stuck without real answers to anything," he attacked. "For now we are stuck with you, but not forever. You finish your third term, by the grace that you received from the public, in a resounding failure, a failure that hurts each and everyone in the country."

Herzog then attempted to paint Netanyahu, as well as Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, as right-wing extremists. 

"Members of Knesset, make no mistake," he said. "Netanyahu is Feiglin and Feiglin is Netanyahu."

"Blind fanaticism, which is dangerous even if it is painted over with something else, is still the same blind fanaticism - and [still] dangerous," he continued. "We have reached the time to decide here [. . ] every moment that this government exists is a real danger to the country's future."

"But there is another option: we'll replace the existing government and maybe see new hope for the country," he added. 



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