Israeli president criticises new Bill on creating Jewish nation-state

Reuven Rivlin says Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposed legislation counters founders’ vision

A proposed new bill anchors in law the status of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people. Above: the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A proposed new bill anchors in law the status of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people. Above: the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

 

Israel’s president has said a Bill anchoring in law the status of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people runs counter to its founding fathers’ vision of equality for Arab citizens.

The Bill, promoted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, comes at a time of high tensions in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. A dispute over access to a religious site sacred to Jews and Muslims has ignited Palestinian streets with protests and attacks on Jews.

“The formulators of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, with much wisdom, insisted the Arab communities in Israel, as well as other groups, should not feel as the Jews had felt in exile,” President Reuven Rivlin said in a speech on Tuesday.

The 1948 declaration proclaims the creation of a Jewish state but also emphasised its democratic nature and promised “complete equality” of social, religious and cultural rights for all, said Mr Rivlin.

The new Bill won cabinet approval on Sunday, despite the opposition of centrist ministers, but several aspects must still be merged and parliamentary ratification is not imminent.

Mr Netanyahu’s draft pledges to “uphold the individual rights of all of Israel’s citizens”. But it also says only the Jewish people have “national rights” - the right to self-determination, to a flag, an anthem and free immigration.

Critics say the Bill is anti-democratic, and legislators from the Arab community, which makes up 20 per cent of Israel’s population of 8.2 million, have described the Bill as racist.

On being elected by parliament to the presidency in June, Mr Rivlin, a veteran right-wing politician who has had rocky relations with Mr Netanyahu, said he would speak out on domestic issues. He ended his acceptance speech by proclaiming “Long live Israeli democracy.”

Many political commentators say Mr Netanyahu’s main reason for pushing the Bill is to placate hardliners in his right-wing Likud party, ahead of an internal leadership ballot in January and a possible early national election next year.

Mr Netanyahu has said the legislation will serve as a counterpoint to anyone “challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people”.

Palestinians have said accepting that definition could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right to return.

The Israeli president’s views on Palestinian self-determination are controversial. He opposes an independent state for Palestinians, backing instead a confederation between them and Israel.

Reuters