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Photo: Amit Shabi
Nationality Bill passes preliminary Knesset reading
The contentious legislation will now go to the committees to be prepared for a first reading; MKs Zoabi and Zahalka removed from the plenum after interrupting MK Dichter's speech, while other opposition members also vocally objected to the bill.

The Nationality Bill, which seeks to define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, passed a preliminary reading at the Knesset on Wednesday.

 

 

The contentious legislation was passed with 48 in favor and 41 opposed. It will now go to the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to be prepared for a first reading vote.

 

During a tumultuous discussion at the Israeli legislature, two Joint List MKs—Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, both from the Balad faction—were removed from the plenum after repeatedly interrupting MK Avi Dichter while he spoke at the podium.

 

Photo: Amit Shabi
Photo: Amit Shabi

 

"This is apartheid, apartheid, apartheid," Zahalka yelled and also called Dichter, who proposed the bill, a "fascist."

 

They weren't the only MKs to vocally express their opposition to the legislation, with Meretz leader Zehava Galon calling out: "This is the nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens. Why does 'democratic state' not appear in the legislation?"

 

Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson accused Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud): "You're a danger to the Jewish state."

 

Joint List MK Masud Ganaim turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking "Why do you need more than what the Declaration of Independence says? Why do you need to write it in law?"

 

MK Zahalka tearing up the bill proposal (Photo: Knesset Channel)
MK Zahalka tearing up the bill proposal (Photo: Knesset Channel)
 

He went on to wonder "how can you pass a law for Jews if a decision hasn't been made on who is considered a Jew?"

 

"This is a legislation meant to hurt Arabs' rights," Ganaim added.

 

MK Dichter, meanwhile, asserted from the podium that "there's disinformation. The bill doesn't hurt anyone. After 69 years, the state deserves to free itself of mandate-era definitions. Over the years, MKs from almost all parties have supported this bill, except the Joint List."

 

The bill proposal, first submitted 4 years ago by Dichter, seeks to enshrine as a Basic Law the concept that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. The legislation determines that all Israeli law must be interpreted according to this principle.

 

The legislation, which is considered by its opponents as discriminatory towards Arab Israelis, specifies some of the practical aspects of the State of Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people. The bill addresses state symbols (national anthem, flag, icons), Jerusalem as the capital, Hebrew as the official language, the right of return for Jews, the ingathering of the exiles, Jewish settlement, relations with the Jewish Diaspora, the Hebrew calendar, and holy sites.

 

Zoabi being removed from the plenum (Photo: Knesset Channel)
Zoabi being removed from the plenum (Photo: Knesset Channel)

 

Eleven other members of Knesset are signatories to the proposal from the Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu parties.

 

According to Dichter, the legislation's objective is "to safeguard Israel's status as the nation-state of the Jewish people, in a way that enshrines in Basic Law Israel's values as a Jewish and democratic state."

 

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously approved the legislation, thus initiating the legislation process.

 

On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the controversy regarding the legislation, saying that "there is no contradiction between the bill and the equal rights of all citizens of Israel. We believe and support it (equal rights). The two are dependent on each other. The bill is a crushing answer to anyone who tries to deny the deep connection between the people of Israel and its land. The Likud will advance this law and I expect all the Zionist parties to support it."

 

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