Diaspora rattled as Israel's 'Jewish-state' crisis grows


Israel's planned "Jewish-state law" has pushed its governing coalition to the edge of collapse and prompted unprecedented criticism from President Reuven Rivlin, the US administration and major Jewish organisations around the world.

The bill, scheduled to be brought to a vote in the Knesset next Wednesday, is an attempt to establish the primacy of Israel's Jewish character in future legislation and court rulings.

The leaders of centrist coalition parties Yesh Atid and Hatnuah have voiced strong opposition to the law, and if they refuse to vote for it, Israel could be heading to early elections.

Mr Rivlin publicly criticised the law in an unprecedented clash between the president - who traditionally remains above politics - and the government's executive and legislative branches.

On Tuesday at a legal conference, Mr Rivlin said: "We have to ask today seriously, what is the point of this bill?" He added that it could "question the success of the immense Zionist endeavour we are all privileged to live in".

The private members bill, proposed by Likud's Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin, and Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi, will state that the "right for national self-determination" in Israel "is unique to the Jewish people".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has personally endorsed the law, whose eventual enactment was part of the coalition's founding agreement. However, the leaders of Yesh Atid and Hatnuah have objected that the law does not mention full equality for all citizens.

In a stormy cabinet meeting on Sunday, the government voted 14-6 to bring the draft bill to a Knesset vote. The government has decided to redraft the bill once it passes its initial Knesset reading, but the prime minister is insisting that all ministers vote in favour first. A refusal would almost certainly mean they would have to resign.

The bill has even elicited comments from governments and organisations outside Israel that usually do not comment on internal legislation.

A State Department spokesman in Washington said: "We would expect any final legislation to continue Israel's commitment to democratic principles". Also in the US, the head of the pro-Israel ADL, Abraham Foxman, said that the debate over the bill had "undermined the settled nature of this essential element of Israel's national identity".

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