Showdown looms over ‘Jewish state’ bill

Tel Aviv – Israel was headed for a potential political crisis as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key coalition partners said they would not support a controversial bill that defines the country as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu is scheduled to bring the bill before parliament on Wednesday for a preliminary reading.

“I think this law proposal harms Zionism and destroys the state of Israel,” centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Monday.

“If it is brought (to parliament) on Wednesday we will not let it pass,” she told Ynet TV.

The head of the six-seat The Movement said she would either vote against the bill, or abstain to give Netanyahu an opportunity not to fire coalition partners voting against his instructions.

Centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid, of the 19-seat Yesh Atid, Netanyahu’s biggest partner, has also announced he will not vote for the bill.

“The prime minister will have to consider whether he wants to fire ministers in his government and break up his coalition over their opposition to a law that works against an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic,” Livni said.

Without the support of Livni and Lapid, Netanyahu will likely have no majority, as his otherwise right-wing nationalist coalition counts a total of 68 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset.

The Israeli premier may find a reason to put off the bill.

After a stormy debate, 14 cabinet members voted on Sunday in favour of such a law, while six voted against, despite criticism that it could offend and violate the rights of the state’s non-Jewish minority.

Under a compromise put forward by Netanyahu, a final version of the bill would be phrased with the help of Israel’s attorney general.

The proposals come at a time of heightened tensions between Jews and Muslims as unrest rises over access to holy sites in Jerusalem and construction of Israeli settlements. The unrest has included weeks of rioting, rock throwing and vehicle attacks on Israeli pedestrians.

Arab Israelis form a 20 percent minority of Israel’s population of 8 million.

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