JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister said Sunday that he is pushing forward a bill that enshrines in law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, adding a new complication to already tense relations with Arab-Israelis and Palestinians.
Also Sunday, an Israeli man was stabbed in Jerusalem, apparently by a Palestinian assailant, police said.
At his weekly cabinet meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu said the new law would recognize Israel’s Jewish character in addition to its already legislated democratic one. He said “the balance between these two facets is necessary” when Palestinians and others refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The bill has yet to be formally drafted, and Netanyahu said it faces “many changes and discussions.” One of its prime movers, lawmaker Zeev Elkin of Netanyahu’s Likud party, is reportedly pressing for it to include provisions institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for future parliamentary legislation and canceling the status of Arabic as an official Israeli language, alongside Hebrew.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and can be expected to strongly oppose the legislation.
Netanyahu’s decision to push the bill forward may reflect pressures from right-wing elements in his coalition, which favor advancing a nationalistic, religion-oriented agenda.
Some commentators said it is likely that Netanyahu is supporting the law at its current stage to placate the right wing but will not support its actual promulgation, fearing that it could further deepen Israel’s already substantial international isolation and alienate an already-aggravated United States.
The stabbing incident Sunday adds to tensions in Jerusalem that have spiked in recent weeks, mostly over disputed claims to a site that is holy both to Jews and Muslims.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attack occurred in downtown Jerusalem and involved a Jewish man in his 30s.
She said the man was stabbed in his back with a screw driver by an assailant who “apparently is Arab.”
Samri said the victim made his way on foot to a nearby first aid station, where he was treated for his wounds, which she described as light to moderate.
She said the assailant was still at large.