New law would tell Palestinian citizens in Israel that they are not equal, say experts
NAZARETH - As Israeli legislators returned to parliament this week, ending the long summer recess, Benjamin Netanyahu's government announced a packed agenda of reforms designed to push Israel further to the right.
Legislative proposals include weakening the supreme court's powers of judicial review, cracking down on left-wing civil-society organisations, expanding Jerusalem's boundaries to include more Jewish settlements and allowing the government to forcibly deport mainly African asylum seekers.
But none is likely to prove as controversial – or gain as much attention – as a measure concerning Israel's status as a Jewish state.
This long-gestating bill is intended to join 11 existing Basic Laws - Israel's equivalent of a constitution. Netanyahu appears to be basing his wider legislative assault on the success of the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Its purpose is to give a constitutional-like standing to Israel's definition as a state that belongs not to its citizens – as is the case in a liberal democracy – but to all Jews around the world, including those with no connection to Israel.
Additionally, the bill is expected to downgrade the status of Arabic, the mother tongue of a fifth of Israel's population. It will also require the Israeli courts to give due weight in their rulings to Jewish religious law and Jewish heritage.
Who opposes the law
Basic Laws are much harder to reverse than ordinary legislation. Various versions of the Jewish nation-state bill have been under consideration since a first draft was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel's secret police.
But after eight years as prime minister, Netanyahu appears impatient for progress. He insisted in May that the legislation must pass as soon as possible. A special committee has been hastily drafting a final version during the past few weeks.
Opposition to the bill comes from three quarters in parliament, each with very different concerns.