An amended version of the controversial nationality bill features Hebrew as Israel's main official language, with the official state use of Arabic to be determined in separate legislation, Ynet learned on Monday.
Under the previous version of the bill, which passed in its first reading in May, the Arabic language was to receive a special status and state services were to be made accessible in Arabic as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to bring the bill to a vote in the Knesset for its second and third readings next week.
To pass the legislation into law, the coalition will need a 61 MK majority. To that end, coalition MKs are not allowed to be absent from the Knesset until the end of next week—the last week of the Knesset's summer session.
The nationality bill proposal, sponsored by MK Avi Dichter (Likud) among others, seeks to enshrine into law the status of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
This includes legally enshrining Israel's democratic character, its state symbols, Jerusalem as the capital, Hebrew as the official language and the right of return for Diaspora Jewry.
Ahead of the vote, Minister Yariv Levin made several changes to the legislation.
The Arabic language: The part stipulating state services would be made accessible in Arabic has been changed. Levin is worried the High Court of Justice would expand the law, determining all official state business must be conducted in Arabic as well as Hebrew—including official documents, signage, etc.
Independence Day: The word "official" was added to Independence Day's definition as a "national holiday."
Foundations of Law: The Likud Party was asked by other parties to remove the words "Hebrew law" from this article of the law, because it constitutes a declarative statement only, as Hebrew law is already enshrined in legislation.
Jewish settlement: The article allowing the establishment of Jewish-only communities remained, despite the objection of the attorney general and other parties.
Levin: New wording of bill 'clearer'
Minister Levin stressed in an interview with Ynet that Arabic is mentioned in the bill as Israel's second official language. The new wording, he said, was "clearer."
"The wording talks about the fact Arabic is the second official language, and the way in which it will be used will be determined in legislation. And there's another article, by the way, that specifically notes there will be no harm done to the Arabic language's status, so this is a storm in a teacup," Levin said.
Asked to clarify about the use of Arabic government ministries will be required to make under the nationality bill, Levin said that "it will be determined in a separate legislation, which will define which (official) documents need to be in Arabic and which don't."
"There's a difference between direction signs at a National Insurance Institute office in an Arab city to the minutes of a state company's meeting. Clearly, the first must be in Arabic, and clearly, the second should not be in Arabic," he explained.
Levin also explained the article allowing members of one group—including national or religious—to establish communities exclusive to that ground is meant "to cancel almost entirely one of the most outrageous court rulings... which contradicts the essence of Zionism, according to which Jewish settlement in the Negev and Galilee constitutes discrimination and inequality."
He rejected the claim the article refers to Jews only, saying "the article determines, in the most clear manner, that every group that wants to establish a community together (can do so). I think this is a basic right for people."
The nationality bill, he asserted "comes to restore order. In the early days of the state, there was no (need for a) nationality bill, because the courts, mainly the Supreme Court, knew their place, understood the essence of the state and the delicate balance between Jewish and democratic.
"In recent years, the country has turned into a nation of all its people, all of its infiltrators. Everything that has to do with Jewish life became some sort of issue of inequality and discrimination. This is what the legislation seeks to fix."
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg called on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party members not to support the nationality bill.
"The nationality bill is a racist and unnecessary legislation. Its entire purpose is gain for Netanyahu at the expense of Israel's Arab citizens and Israeli democracy," she said.
"You didn't go to politics for this. I call on you not to cooperate with this madness and block the passing of the nationality bill. It's in your hands. Don't take on another black mark in the history books," Zandberg added.