Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said she envisioned a version of the law that says: “‘Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people with full equality for all its citizens.’ We oppose whoever wants to cancel the equality, or ‘Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.’”
The Jewish Nation-State Law says that Israel allows self-determination for only the Jewish people, as well as what that entails, including the flag, state symbol, Jewish calendar, Hebrew language, supporting the Jewish Diaspora and more.
Critics in the opposition Zionist parties called for the value of equal individual rights to be included in the law, even though it is already included in other laws. The mostly Arab Joint List opposes the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Livni dedicated much of her speech to paying tribute to the Declaration of Independence, which among other things says Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
“The real question that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu won’t answer,” Livni said, “is whether he’s for or against the Declaration of Independence. What bothers him in this wonderful document that the whole Jewish leadership of the state signed?”
Zionist Union activists in the Knesset visitors’ mezzanine waved copies of the Declaration of Independence and were removed from the plenum because of the prohibition against displaying signs there.
Livni accused Netanyahu of “dissolving the glue of Israeli society with his poisonous acid.”
On a similar note, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid asked Netanyahu rhetorically: “What happened to your values?”
Lapid moved on to a litany of values he said Netanyahu was “crumbling,” such as military service, equality and national unity.
“We’re family, but you are crumbling this family. Stop dividing us. Enough ‘us versus them.’ I believe in us. I believe in this nation,” he said.
Lapid also suggested that the government should have used Likud MK Bennie Begin’s version of the Jewish Nation-State Law, which is based heavily on the Declaration of Independence.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, however, shrugged off the mention of equality in the Declaration of Independence, saying it has never existed in practicality.
“For years,” Tibi said, “there has been discrimination in lands, budgets, education and religious services. We warned you in articles and speeches. Israel defined as Jewish and democratic is contradictory.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen quoted extensively from the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr. and said he dreams of his children being judged for themselves and not for their ethnic background.
Representing the government, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin responded to the criticism. He disputed the idea that the law cancels the Declaration of Independence, which “repeats time and again that Israel is the Jewish state.” Elkin went through each individual article of the law, asking MKs what they oppose, and opposition lawmakers shouted “in favor” about much of it.
“This is ridiculous and funny. Therefore, I have no doubt that if you continue going in this way, against what was the consensus in this country... because of another editorial in [Haaretz], you won’t get half the seats you had. The voters are not embarrassed that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Elkin said.