Netanyahu's nation-state bill harms diaspora in deal with ultra-Orthodox

The old draft said “the state will take action to maintain the connection between the state and the Jewish people wherever they are.” The new one replaced “wherever they are" with "in the Diaspora."

July 9, 2018 22:12
2 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the 2018 AIPAC conference. (photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized a deal with United Torah Judaism that could potentially harm Diaspora Jews, just over a year after he reneged on the Western Wall deal at the behest of his Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) coalition partners, Likud officials close to Netanyahu confirmed on Monday.

Netanyahu made the controversial Jewish nation-state bill the Likud’s top legislative goal before the Knesset disperses for its extended summer-holiday vacation next week. But he was having trouble passing it, due to UTJ’s opposition.

So Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), who is the ministerial liaison to the Knesset, reached an agreement with UTJ that Netanyahu approved, limiting the government’s role in helping Diaspora Jewry.

The old version of the bill said that: “The state will take action to maintain the connection between the state and the Jewish people wherever they are.”

The new version released Monday replaced “wherever they are” with “in the Diaspora.”

UTJ MK Uri Maklev told The Jerusalem Post that he requested the change, because he did not want the state to help Diaspora Jews advance religious pluralism in Israel in general and at the Western Wall in particular.

He said the change was essential to obtain his faction’s support for the bill, although the support was still not guaranteed.

Likud officials downplayed the change, which was first revealed by the Makor Rishon website, calling it “mere semantics that would have no impact.” Deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren (Kulanu) also downplayed it, saying he did not believe the Supreme Court would rule against the Women of the Wall due to the clause.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told the Post that it was “an over-analysis.”

But Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran, who is active in a Conservative synagogue, called the change “nasty.”

“The government continues to put a finger in the eye of Diaspora Jews and tell them we love them there but not here,” Cohen Paran said. “The surrender of Netanyahu and the coalition to the Haredim deepens the rift between Israel and the Jewish people abroad.”

A special committee formed to legislate the bill will convene on Tuesday to prepare the bill for its final readings next Monday.

Bayit Yehudi has vowed to stop the bill, because its MKs are upset that a clause referring to Jewish legal tradition was removed.

The Jewish nation-state bill is a draft Basic Law with constitutional heft that declares Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. It would anchor in law the state’s menorah emblem, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, national holidays and the right of all Israeli residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion and nationality.

Edelstein predicted that the bill would pass but then be canceled by the Supreme Court. He called it shameful that MKs petition the court to rule against the Knesset.

By contrast, Edelstein predicted that the Haredi conscription bill would not pass before the Knesset recess due to opposition from UTJ. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said it was inevitable that the state would have to ask the Supreme Court for an extension beyond the September deadline to pass the bill.

When asked why his faction opposed the bill, Maklev said: “There is a value in learning Torah but there is no value in military service and no need for it.”

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