Later today (Wednesday, July 18) the Nation-State bill is likely to pass in the Israeli Knesset in a watered down version from the original.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) the national board of which I chair, sent the following cover note over a letter by Rabbi Gilad Kariv, President of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and Rabbi Noa Sattat, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), plus two attachments, one by retiring Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Natan Sharansky, and a nation-bill update.
It should be noted that the passage of this bill has been opposed strenuously by the President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin and Member of the Knesset Benny Begin of the Prime Minister’s Likud party. Prime Minister Netanyahu has advocated for and supported the bill and then doubled down his support despite international Jewish condemnation of the bill that would chip away at Israel’s democratic character and defy its own Declaration of Independence, the original Israeli “nation-state” statement of principles. Those opposed argue that there is no need for this bill because Israel’s Declaration of Independence sets the principles for the establishment of a Jewish democratic State of Israel
The nation-state bill will, if passed (and it is expected to pass in this new form) be equivalent to an amendment to the American Constitution.
Please read the below carefully as well as the two items that follow so you understand what has occurred in recent days in the Knesset and what is at stake for the continuance of a democratic Jewish State of Israel.
I agree with the leadership of our international Reform Zionist and Israeli Reform movement. I will send out another blog in the next day or two once the Bill has completed its run through the Knesset.
In thinking about the distortions in the American presidency today and what is happening in Israel, though of very different characters, I’m deeply distressed about both. However, with regards to both nations, they belong to us all and we have to keep fighting for what we believe, for justice, religious pluralism, and democracy even if current events cause us deep worry and despair.
Please see the below letter from Rabbis Gilad Kariv and Noa Sattath updating us on the current status of the Nation-State bill. I am also including a letter from Natan Sharansky and an update from JAFI BoG Chair Michael Siegel.
In addition to the efforts in Israel, we have been working hard to do everything we can from North America to try and prevent this bill from passing, and despite all of our efforts it looks like it will indeed pass. In my mind, that means one thing at the moment – that we must double down our support for the Reform Movement in Israel and strengthen the Jewish and democratic values of the State in order to contribute to the flourishing of a strong civil society.
Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, President, ARZA
Friends and Partners Shalom,
Today (Wednesday) the Knesset Committee has approved a final version of the “Nation State” Law, and we believe that the law will be passed tonight by the Knesset by a very small margin of coalition MKs with all the opposition MKs voting against.
As all of you are aware, over the past weeks and especially the last few days we have organized and led the intense public and political “battle” to prevent this law from passing. Many of you aided us in this effort and we want to express our deepest gratitude. We believe that our efforts put Reform and Progressive Jews in the forefront of the struggle for Israel’s democratic and Jewish values based on our Zionist and Democratic world view.
During this public struggle we stated clearly that the “Nation State” Law can actually help us in legal claims regarding recognition of the non- Orthodox streams of Judaism from the very fact of the statement in the law that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. At the same time we nonetheless fiercely opposed the law because of the worsening of relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel, and because the law does not mention Israel’s Declaration of Independence, or the principle of equality and democratic values of the state of Israel.
It is important to note that the version of the law that will be ratified tonight by the Knesset is very different from the original versions that were proposed. It does not include any statement in which the Jewish character of the state is more important than the democratic character (the democratic character of Israel is anchored in the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom passed in the 90s). The law also does not include a statement giving an official status of Jewish law (halacha) as a source of inspiration, nor does the law give itself a higher status than the other Basic Laws. Additionally instead of the original line that stated clearly that people could be prevented from joining community settlements on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or nationality, the law now only makes a general statement in support of Jewish settlement as a national value that the nation should promote.
All of these points reduce the negativity of the original versions, but it’s still important to state that we feel that this is a terrible and unnecessary law which erodes the necessary balances among the core values of the state of Israel.
In the coming days we will distribute a detailed summery regarding the law including the lessons we have learned in the process of the struggle against the law, and thoughts regarding the future. We are convinced that our Zionist, Progressive and Democratic Voice is needed now more than ever to be heard. We believe that even after the law is passed, we should express our disappointment and concern to Israeli ambassadors and representatives throughout the world. It’s very important that Jerusalem be made aware that the passing of the law leaves a heavy burden on Israeli society and world Jewry and that large numbers of the Jewish people in Israel and around the world are deeply worried about erosion of Israel’s core values.
We want to thank all those who helped and continue to participate in the effort, both our professionals and our volunteer leadership in Israel and around the world.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv and Rabbi Noa Sattath
To: MK Amir Ohana, Chairman – The Joint Committee of the Knesset Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee
Re: The Need for Consideration of the Position of Diaspora Jews on the Subject of the “National Law”
The State of Israel is the national home for the entire Jewish people, and it is clear to me that there is no dispute on this point between any Zionist parties or movements. Although the National Law was originally intended to reinforce this principle, recent amendments to it (I refer mainly to Section 6B) raise great concerns since they seem to drive a wedge between Israeli Jewry and World Jewry.
It is troubling that changes to the law add to the conflict that has accompanied us in recent years around the role to give to different streams of Judaism in the public sphere.
I call upon the members of the committee to put their hearts into this issue and do everything in their power to prevent a further rift in the Jewish people.
Additionally, changes to certain clauses give ammunition to those who support a boycott against Israel, for example the revocation of Arabic’s special status as a language until the passing of a law about it—when we don’t know what that law will be or when it will pass—and the clause about making it legal for towns to refuse residency to certain populations. In recent times, a number of laws have passed the Knesset with the stated purpose of shoring up the struggle against the boycott of Israel. Yet they were drafted and passed without consulting with those who actually fight the boycott every day in the Diaspora. So too in the case of the current bill: we can’t expect Jews overseas to fight hard against the boycott movement without consulting with them and hearing their opinions.
I therefore propose that you invite representatives of overseas Jewish organizations to present their viewpoints to the members of the committee, before a final draft of the law is formulated.
In recent months, the Knesset has debated the Nation-State Basic Law sponsored by the Likud and the Prime Minister which intends to enshrine in legislation the State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, something which Jews worldwide universally support.
The bill contains several significant clauses about the nature of the Jewish state, it’s symbols, the Hebrew language, Aliyah and the responsibility of the State for Jews in distress. There is also important language about the responsibility of the State to maintain the relationship with the Diaspora and to preserve the cultural, historic and religious heritage of the Jewish people in the State of Israel.
Over the past week we have been working with the Knesset and the government to try and influence the legislation in a positive manner and to alert the government to several problematic clauses in the law. Natan Sharansky wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Committee of the Knesset working on the law, MK Amir Ohana, who participated in our last MK mission to the US with JFNA. The letter highlighted our concerns and called on the Knesset to invite representatives of the Jewish people to appear before them prior to the legislation being passed. After the letter was received, MK Ohana invited Josh Schwarcz, our Secretary General, to speak before the committee last Thursday. Josh addressed the committee and presented our concerns to the Knesset.
We actively worked with the Government and members of the Caucus for the Jewish People in the Knesset to lobby on the legislation. All our efforts were done in close cooperation with Jerry Silverman, the President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, who was in Israel this week and with the active leadership and participation of our Chairman elect, MK Isaac Herzog, who amongst other things, spoke at length in the Knesset plenum about the law.
The most important achievement was the revision of problematic language in the law that allowed for the creation of separate community settlements based upon religion or ethnicity. We were amongst those who spoke out vocally on the language in the law about segregation and we are pleased that the language was subsequently taken out.
We also achieved important language on the Diaspora – relating to the responsibility of the Government to preserve the connection with the Jewish people in the Diaspora and to the preservation of the cultural, historic and religious heritage of the Jewish people in the State of Israel. Unfortunately, the ultra-orthodox were successful in inserting language that made it clear that the responsibility of the government for maintaining the relationship with the Jewish people is specifically in the Diaspora.
We remain concerned about the clause lowering of the status of the Arabic language from an official language to a language of special status. This clause is potentially unhelpful in maintaining support for Israel.
This update is being sent to you before the final Knesset vote on the bill. It is still possible, but unlikely, that the bill will be modified at the last minute or not brought to a vote in this session of the Knesset. If there are any last-minute changes we will, of course, inform you.
Please find attached a translation of the letter from Natan Sharansky to MK Amir Ohana. The law changed dramatically following the action we took after Natan’s letter was sent and the final version of the law is much more declarative than its original version.
Also, please see the following link to an article on this issue in the Jerusalem Post:
We will continue to work on your behalf and on behalf of the Jewish people in Israel while being your voice in the Government and the Knesset.
Michael Siegal (Jewish Agency for Israel)