(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky urged members of the committee legislating the controversial Jewish nation-state bill to listen to Diaspora Jews before voting on the bill, pleading with committee chairman Amir Ohana (Likud) to invite representatives of Diaspora Jewry to give their perspective before the final version of the bill is drafted.
Ohana accepted Sharansky's request and invited Agency Secretary-General Josh Schwartz to address the committee Monday as the representative of the Diaspora.
Sharansky expressed concern about a front-page Jerusalem Post
report about a deal the Likud made with United Torah Judaism that changed a clause in the bill about the Diaspora. The old version of the bill said “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 MKs said they requested the change, because they did not want the state to help Diaspora Jews advance religious pluralism in Israel in general and at the Western Wall in particular.
“The State of Israel is the national home of the entire Jewish people, and it is clear to me that there is no dispute about that among the parties,” Sharansky wrote the MKs on Wednesday. “The nation-state bill was initially intended to strengthen this principle.” But recent changes made to the bill have caused great worries, because they drove a wedge among the sectors of the nation in Israel and the Diaspora.”
Sharansky said he was disappointed that the changes in the bill have added to an already existing dispute over the place of religious streams in the public sphere.
“I call upon the members of the committee to take the issue to heart and do whatever they can to prevent a further rift in the nation,” he wrote, adding that other clauses in the bill also made it harder for Diaspora Jews to defend Israel.
Sharansky complained that the Knesset had passed other bills recently that were intended to fight efforts to boycott Israel, but were drafted and passed without asking those in the Diaspora who lead those battles every day.
One of the issues Sharansky singled out in the bill is the downgrading of Arabic from the status of an official language alongside Hebrew.
The Joint List presented an “alternative nation-state bill Wednesday that would keep Arabic as an official language and would change the state’s symbols to reflect both its Jewish and Arab populations.
“The State of Israel is the state shared by all its citizens, and all its institutions and resources will fully and equally serve all the citizens,” the Joint List version said.
The Joint List’s version was endorsed by MKs Mossy Raz and Isawi Frej of Meretz and Zionist Union MK Zoheir Bahalul.