The New Israel Fund tracks legislation in the Knesset that could change the way Israeli democracy functions. We will provide regular updates throughout this Knesset session.
A Collapsing Unity Government Means New Elections
After seven months of escalating infighting between members of the unity government involving the Likud party’s refusal to pass a state budget, Alternative Prime Minister and Chairman of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz announced on Tuesday that he will vote in favor of the Opposition’s bill to dissolve the 23rd Knesset on Wednesday if there is no agreement on a state budget. Following impassioned speeches on the Knesset floor, on Wednesday the bill passed in a vote in its first reading, 61-54.
This means that elections are all but certain, unless in a highly unlikely scenario, Netanyahu meets Gantz’s ultimatum to pass a budget between the first and final readings of the bill to dissolve the Knesset. Gantz said that his aim in returning to elections will be to form a unity government which does not include Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today, Yesh Atid-Telem Chairman Yair Lapid introduced a bill to disperse Knesset, delivering a speech which focused on the government’s “terrible mismanagement” of the coronavirus pandemic, emphasizing the citizens who have suffered as a result as well as “and the politics which is destroying our country.”
In his Tuesday remarks announcing his intention to vote in favor of the Yesh Atid-Telem bill, Gantz castigated the prime minister for dishonesty, accusing him of pulling “tricks and shticks” and of being a “serial agreement violator.” Yet he pointed to his own party’s success in preventing unilateral Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which paved the way to normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirate and other Gulf states.
Bill to Mandate Psychological Treatment for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence Passes First Reading
Last week, the Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation granted initial approval on a bill initially proposed by MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) that would require judges to mandate that men convicted of committing gender-based violence to undergo psychological treatment. Upon the unanimous passage of the bill, MK Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter: “Psychological treatment for men who have committed violence is a life-saving measure, and and must be a key part of the fight against violence against women.”
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic Israel, domestic violence escalated dramatically. The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel reported a 95% increase in reporting on its national WhatsApp hotline during that period.
Blue and White Introduces and Withdraws Bills to Promote Civic Equality
This week, before Wednesday’s vote to dissolve Knesset, the Blue and White party advanced several bills promoting civic equality and anti-discrimination including the Basic Law on Equality and the Basic Law on the Declaration of Independence.
The Basic Law on Equality would incorporate into the existing framework of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the right to equality, and the prohibition of discrimination. At the end of July, five members of Blue and White voted against a similar amendment to the Nation State Law that sought to add equality provisions to the Nation State Law.
A second bill, the Basic Law: Declaration of Independence would seek to anchor Israel’s founding document as a law with constitutional status. This would effectively neutralize or counterbalance the most harmful and discriminatory elements of the Nation State Law by introducing an obligation to interpret all legislation according to the declaration of independence’s commitment to non-discrimination.
Most observers did not expect these bills to pass into law in the current Knesset, without the cooperation of Likud. By all accounts, Blue and White brought these proposals to the Knesset independently from Likud as a show of independence and a sign that the coalition agreement underlying the unity government had unraveled. Using these laws to signal Blue and White’s departure from its agreement was a signal ahead of the imminent Knesset elections of the party’s commitment to equality.
Before Wednesday’s vote to dissolve Knesset and call new elections, Blue and White withdrew these bills from consideration. A majority vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset marks the end of the current legislative session — and would in any case, delay until the next Knesset any efforts to revise the Nation State Law through legislation.
Citing Nation State Law, Municipal Court Rules in Favor of Discrimination
Last week, the Krayot Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of discrimination against Arab schoolchildren in Carmiel, using the Basic Law: Nation State to justify its decision. The case was brought on behalf of two school-aged children, a brother and sister ages 6 and 10, who live in Carmiel with their family who had petitioned the court to seek reimbursement from the city of Carmiel for the cost of transportation to an Arab-language school outside of the city, since the city has no Arab-language schools. The presiding judge, Yaniv Luzon, cited Article 7 of the Nation State Law, which promoted Jewish settlement “as a national value” in his ruling, writing that “Carmiel, a Jewish city, was meant to establish Jewish settlement in the Galilee.” Accordingly, the city of Carmiel had no obligation to provide equally for Arabic-speaking and Jewish residents of Carmiel, since “Establishing an Arabic-language school or funding school transportation for Arab students wherever and whoever wants it, could change the demographic balance and damage the city’s character.”
Opponents of the Nation State Law warned that it could be used to undermine equal protection claims. The December 2018 Supreme Court petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to overturn the nation state law charges that: “the Nation State Law does irreversible harm to equality and democracy, transforming the ongoing institutional discrimination against the Arab population in Israel from one based on policy and judgment to a guiding judicial principle enjoying special protection in the Basic Law.”
On Tuesday, 22 December 2020 Israel’s Supreme Court is expecting to hear petitions against the Nation State Law, including from ACRI and Adalah’s petition, as well as 13 others before a panel of 11 justices.
New Israel Fund: The Jews-Only “Nation-State” Bill
Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People (PDF, Unofficial English Translation)
Adalah: Position Paper on Proposed Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People
Adalah: The Illegality of Article 7 of the Jewish Nation-State Law: Promoting Jewish Settlement as a National Value (PDF)
Association for Civil Rights in Israel: Petition to Repeal the Nation-State Law