Israel OKs Jewish homeland legislation
JERUSALEM — Israel’s cabinet on Sunday approved legislation defining Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people — a measure critics decried as racist and a threat to democracy.
At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the drafting of legislation that would allow the revocation of Jerusalem residency for Palestinians who carry out terrorist attacks, and that of their families as well.
Taken together, the actions are likely to increase tensions between Israel and its Arab citizens — who make up about 20 percent of the population — and between Israeli authorities and the 300,000 Palestinians who live in parts of east Jerusalem that have been in effect annexed by Israel. Most of them have residency rights but not citizenship.
Israel has been on edge since attacks by Palestinians that have killed 11 people since Oct. 22, including five who were slain last week in a Jerusalem synagogue.
The homeland measure, if finalized by the Knesset, or parliament, would become part of Israel’s “basic law,” legislation anchoring key principles and forming a de facto constitution.
Over the past several years, lawmakers have considered several versions of the bill, some more stringent than others, but all drawing fierce objections from liberal politicians, legal experts, Arab citizens and Palestinians.
Since taking office in 2009, Netanyahu has demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jews as part of any permanent peace agreement. The cabinet vote approved elements of two separate versions drafted by coalition lawmakers and supported by the prime minister.
“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish, and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic,” Netanyahu said. “In the principles of the law that I will submit today, both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree.”
One version of the bill proposes that Hebrew will be Israel’s only official language and grants Arabic an unspecified “special status.” Arabic has been an official language alongside Hebrew since the days of the British Mandate over Palestine.
Netanyahu, whose coalition threatened to splinter over the homeland measure, said the law was necessary to counter those challenging Israel from within and without. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, however, suggested the tough measures were spurred by upcoming leadership primaries for the prime minister’s Likud faction.
Lapid told Israeli media of his condolence call to the family of Zidan Seif, a Druze police officer killed last week while fighting the two Palestinian synagogue assailants.
“What shall we tell his family now, that he was rendered a second-class citizen because Likud has primaries?” he asked sarcastically.
Even before legislation on revoking Jerusalem residency rights of Palestinian attackers and their families, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan on Sunday stripped the residency of Mahmoud Nadi, a Palestinian permanent resident of Israel who drove a suicide bomber to Tel Aviv in 2001 for an attack that killed 21 Israelis.