Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday voted 15 to 7 in favor of new legislation that would make official Israel’s status as the “Jewish state.”
The bill, which will go before the Knesset plenum later this week, seeks to codify the national rights of Israel’s Jews, while also reinforcing the individual rights of all minorities.
In practical terms, that means only Jews can make claims to a national flag, anthem and a right of immigration.
In reality, the law changes nothing. The Israeli flag and anthem are already focused on the Jewish nature of the state, and only Jews are granted a “right of return.”
As such, the move is largely symbolic, but seen as important nonetheless by Netanyahu and many others at a time when the Palestinians and some Israeli Arab elements are trying to undermine the Jewish nature of the state and, in the prime minister’s words, “create a state within a state.”
But, as seen in the vote count from this morning, not everyone agreed.
The cabinet only cast its votes following what was reported to be a heated shouting match between Netanyahu and some of his more left-leaning ministers.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni both painted the bill as racist toward the nation’s minorities. However, their outbursts seemingly failed to take into account the changes Netanyahu made to the original draft.
In its original form, the proposed legislation made Israel’s democratic nature subservient to its Jewish nature, and sought to downgrade Arabic as an official language of the state.
Netanyahu was harshly critical of anyone, both in Israel or in the international community, who calls for a two-state solution, but opposes this bill.
“They rush to recognize a state of the Palestinian people, but they strongly oppose a state of the Jewish people,” he said.
Netanyahu has made Palestinian recognition of Israel as the “Jewish state” a cornerstone of his position regarding peace negotiations.