Netanyahu supports declaring Israel "Jewish state" as government teeters

Israeli PM wants controversial bill to be an integral part of Basic Laws · According to Netanyahu's Likud, "only the Jewish people have national rights in Israel" · Centrists, secularists oppose current bill version · If government falls, religious nationalist right could become second largest party in Parliament

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (left picture) insists he will support a bill declaring Israel a "Jewish state," despite opposition and doubts among several political parties in Parliament. The proposal should have been put to cabinet vote last weekend, but disagreements within the government halted the vote, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni postponed the decision to Sunday 23th. Netanyahu wants the new law to be an integral part of Israel's Basic Laws, a set of rules that work as the country's constitutional basis.

The Israeli government is currently made up of six parties. The main one is Netanyahu's Likud (right). The PM argues that "only the Jewish people have national rights in Israel and that needs to be anchored in law." According to Netanyahu, this does not contradict the fact that "all citizens have equal rights under law" in Israel, "regardless of race, gender or religion."

But Netanyahu's government also includes Tzipi Livni's centrist secular Hatnuah party. The Minister of Justice says her party does not oppose a bill on "the Jewish state," but it is against the current version drafted by Likud MP Ze'ev Elkin. Livni argues this version goes against the Israeli Declaration of Independence as it puts an end to equal rights for all citizens and threatens Israel's democratic character. Another ruling party, Yesh Atid (liberal centre), also opposes Elkin's bill proposal.

In contrast, other government members, such as The Jewish Home (religious nationalist right), say failure to pass the "Jewish state" bill would bring the cabinet down. Party leader and Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett warns The Jewish Home will no longer support bills proposed by Hatnuah or Yesh Atid if those two parties block the "Jewish state" bill.

Parties representing the Arab community in Israel obviously oppose declaring Israel a "Jewish state." Most Israeli Arabs are Muslims or Christians.

The Jewish Home on the rise if a snap election is held

This month's opinion polls put Bennett in a strong position. According to surveys, The Jewish Home could become the second strongest party (17 seats, up from 12 now), only behind the Likud (21 or 22, now 20). The Labour Party, now in opposition, would keep the third place (14 or 15 seats), while Yesh Atid could also keep the fourth, but losing half of seats (9 or 10, now has 19). The Israeli Parliament has 120 seats.

Although some of the center-left parties progress (like Meretz: 9 seats, up from 6 now), the overall result would leave a Parliament with more rightist MPs than now. If Netanyahu should seek again to form a government, he might even need the support from some religious parties that are now in opposition.