Israeli PM determined to pass nationality law despite intra-party skepticism

World Today

Israeli PM Benjamin NetanyahuIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on November 16, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/POOL/GALI TIBBON)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday to pass a nationality law that may threaten the stability of his fragile coalition government, but left the door open for negotiations to soften the law.

The bill would formally identify Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. However, the language favored by hard-liners has drawn racism accusations. It has also sparked questions by Israel’s attorney general and prompted the justice minister to warn that the coalition could fall apart.

The prime minister addressed members of the Likud Party,  saying he was determined to pass the law.

“I have to say that this bill and the proposals … are expressing the fact that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and only theirs, alongside preserving the rights of every single citizen of the state of Israel,” said the prime minister.

What exactly would a nationality law in Israel mean?

Elements of the proposal have raised concerns. The proposal includes making Jewish law a source of legislative inspiration and de-listing Arabic as an official language.

“That will endanger really the very sensitive relationship between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority inside Israel,” said Ibrahim Sarsour, an Arab lawmaker.

Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 defined the country as both Jewish and democratic. The new legislation seeks to enshrine these principles as a Basic Law, Israel’s de facto constitution. The prime minister, however, said he was open to further discussion on the law.

Discord within the Netanyahu coalition

Israeli officials said they were working toward delaying a vote, scheduled Wednesday, for another week.  The centrist members of the prime minister’s coalition –the Hatnuah and Yesh Atid parties — have vowed to oppose the measure.

Earlier, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnuah, warned that the bill’s passage could topple Netanyahu’s coalition and force early elections. Livni also said that if Netanyahu wanted to punish her for refusing to back the law, it could lead to the fall of his government.

Jewish and Arab tensions in Israel

Debate over the nationality law comes amid growing friction between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent in a population of eight million.

Over the past month, Palestinian attacks have killed 11 Israelis, including five people in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last week.

This report was compiled with information from the Associated Press.