Complaints about Jewish nation-state bill reach Congress

Yesh Atid MK compared bill to Holocaust

Josh Schwartz speaking on behalf of the Jewish people July 12, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Josh Schwartz speaking on behalf of the Jewish people July 12, 2018
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned European Union Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret to be reprimanded, following a Channel 2 report that he had called MKs to warn them of the ramifications of the government’s flagship legislation: the Jewish nation-state bill.
“As if it is not enough that the EU funds organizations that undermine Israel and illegal construction, now it is also interfering in Israeli legislation,” the prime minister said. “They apparently do not understand that Israel is a sovereign state.”
The summons is part of increasing tension between Israel and the EU, which has been pressuring the country not to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.
Congressmen have also complained about the bill to Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and asked him to relay their concerns to Netanyahu, sources among the US Jewish leadership revealed to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The congressmen are concerned about clauses in the bill that could enable Jewish communities to prevent Arabs from living there, remove Arabic from being an official language of Israel, as well as a clause that could potentially harm Diaspora Jews in Israel.
Jewish Federations of North America president Jerry Silverman intends to arrive on Sunday to personally lobby Netanyahu and other officials against the bill. The head of the committee legislating the bill, MK Amir Ohana (Likud), rejected a request by the Jewish Agency to allow Silverman to speak to the committee against the legislation.
Agency chairman Natan Sharansky wrote Ohana expressing concern about a front-page Post report about a deal the Likud made with United Torah Judaism that changed the 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 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.
Sharansky’s request led to a speech to the committee by Jewish Agency secretary-general Josh Schwartz, who warned that there would be negative ramifications to the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora if the bill is not changed back to its original wording
“We are getting a lot of complaints, especially about that clause,” Schwartz told the MKs. “It takes Israel out of the places where it is responsible for Diaspora Jews. Do Israelis not need to know about Diaspora Jewry? Do they not need to recognize them and be welcoming to them?”
Schwartz said changing the clause sent the wrong message to American Jews who advocate on behalf of Israel. He warned that the bill “gives ammunition to the BDS campaign against Israel,” citing information obtained that BDS activists are preparing to use the bill against Israel immediately when it passes.
Zionist Union MKs Revital Swid and Yael Cohen-Paran backed up Schwartz, with Swid saying: “The bill would divorce Diaspora Jews and people deemed not Jewish enough by Orthodox extremists.” Cohen-Paran called the bill “a nail in the coffin of Israel’s relationship with US Jews.”
Swid is modern Orthodox, while Cohen-Paran is active in a Conservative synagogue.
Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich defended the Diaspora clause, warning that in its original format, the bill could have enabled the Supreme Court to say Israel would need to evacuate Judea and Samaria if US Jews supported such a move, due to the need to maintain the connection with Diaspora Jewry.
Smotrich and other MKs expressed outrage at a comparison Yesh Atid MK Yael German made between the bill and the Holocaust when she said: “The lesson of the Holocaust is not to be silent in the face of injustice.”
The bill's sponsor, Likud MK Avi Dichter, responded: “It's a horrible mistake for anyone to say that, especially an MK. If that was said in Poland, it would be called antisemitic.”