The American and the Israeli national flags can be seen outside the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel December 5, 2017.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in passing the controversial Jewish Nation-State law Thursday and immediately received a cold shower in criticism from American Jewish organizations, the European Union, and non-Jewish Israeli diplomats around the world.
The Jewish Nation-State Law became Israel’s 15th Basic Law after it passed into law in the Knesset plenum by a vote of 62 in favor, 55 against and two abstentions from MKs Bennie Begin and Orli Levy-Abecasis.
Following a stormy debate full of theatrics that stretched more than eight hours and voting that lasted three hours, Netanyahu applauded the vote’s passage, describing it as “a defining moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the State of Israel.”
Speaking from the Knesset podium, Netanyahu declared, “122 years after Herzl published his vision, we have stated by law the basic principle of our existence.”
But then came the flood of criticism. The European Union said the law could harm prospects of a two-state solution.
“We are concerned. We have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context,” a spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told a news briefing. “We’ve been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution. We believe it is the only way forward, and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided.”
A group of non-Jewish Israeli diplomats and several US Jewish groups said the bill would make it harder to explain Israel around the world. The non-Jewish diplomats told Channel 1 they felt particularly disenfranchised and disheartened by the law.
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The Anti-Defamation League said it had warned Netanyahu that “elements in the bill that could undermine Israel’s cherished democratic character, exacerbate relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs as well as those between Israel and Diaspora Jews, and indeed, impair Israel’s international reputation.”
The organization said there were problematic elements in the law that might lead some to question Israel’s commitment to pluralism. It singled out the bill’s clause about Arabic being a special rather than an official language, and its Diaspora clause that says that Israel will act to preserve the bond between the State and the Jewish people abroad but not in Israel.
“Now that this law has been passed by the Knesset, the State of Israel has an obligation to ensure that, in practice, this Basic Law is not used to discriminate
against minorities, particularly its Arab citizens, and that the state maintains its commitment to improve relations between Jews in Israel and those around the world,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Israel director Carole Nuriel.
The American Jewish Committee said it was “deeply disappointed” by the bill’s passage, complaining specifically about the Arabic clause and another that says that “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation,” which the organization said could be read as a euphemism for the originally proposed endorsement of support for Jewish-only communities in Israel.
“We respectfully ask the government of Israel to clarify these and other questionable elements of the bill, and to reaffirm the core principles and values that make up the very foundation of Israel’s vibrant and admired democracy,” the AJC said.
Response to the controversial Jewish Nation-State law was not universally negative.
The National Council of Young Israel praised the law’s passage, especially its clauses about united Jerusalem being Israel’s capital, its promotion of Jewish settlement, and its mandate that the Jewish Sabbath and holy days are statutory days of rest in Israel.
“While the democratic State of Israel facilitates freedom of religion and affords people of various backgrounds the right to visit and reside there, the reality is that Israel is inherently a Jewish state and affirming that fact does not contravene the liberties that it benevolently bestows to individuals of other faiths,” the organization said. “Passage of this bill was vital to ensure the continuity of the connection between the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and publicly pronouncing that Israel is the Nation State of the Jewish people is an essential legislative act that is long overdue.”
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