U.S. Jewish Leaders Come Out Against Land-grab Law: 'This Isn’t the Israel We Want to See'

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, calls the measure a 'lose-lose' policy that 'significantly undermines Israeli democracy.'

A general view taken on February 3, 2017 shows the Israeli settlement of Almon (Anatot), north of the Maale Adumim settlement, in the occupied West Bank, in the occupied West Bank.
A general view taken on February 3, 2017 shows the Israeli settlement of Almon (Anatot), north of the Maale Adumim settlement, in the occupied West Bank, in the occupied West Bank. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

A long list of American Jewish organizations expressed disappointment and concern over Israel’s new land expropriation law  soon after it was passed Monday, warning of its national and international legal repercussions and potential damage to Israel’s image around the world.

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism called it a “lose-lose” policy that “significantly undermines Israeli democracy.”

“We are disheartened, concerned, but, alas, not surprised that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government today voted to “legalize” illegal Israeli settlements that are built on privately owned Palestinian land,” Jacobs said in a statement.

“Not only is this legislation illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, but it is at odds with the very raison d’être of Israel as a haven and a beacon of hope.”

While Jacobs said that the fact that Israel’s attorney general and the courts may overturn the new law, “the very fact that this legislation was enacted speaks volumes about the aims of the current Israeli government.”

The new law allows the state to declare private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” as government property, and deny its owners the right to use or hold those lands until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.

The measure provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose lands will be seized. A landowner can receive an annual usage payment of 125 percent of the land’s value as determined by an assessment committee for renewable periods of 20 years, or an alternate plot of land if this is possible, whichever he chooses.

>> Explained: Israel's controversial new land-grab law <<

Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League called it “imperative that the Knesset recognizes that passing this law will be harmful to Israel’s image internationally and could undermine future efforts to achieving a two-state solution.”

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said that the law represents “ a terrible step towards ending Israel’s status as a democracy and erasing the Green Line.

"It’s no small thing that Israel’s Attorney General has indicated that he won’t defend the bill before the court. Especially now, American Jews are losing patience with political leaders who sacrifice the nation's values and democratic principles to serve their political interests.

"This isn't the Israel we want to see," Sokatch said.

In its statement, the American Jewish Committee said it was “deeply disappointed” about the bill’s passage and called on Israel’s Supreme Court to “reverse this misguided legislation.”

“The controversial Knesset action, Netanyahu’s meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington next week, is misguided and likely to prove counter-productive to Israel’s core national interests,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

B’Tselem, a watchdog monitoring human rights abuses in the settlements, slammed the bill.

“The law passed by the Knesset today proves yet again that Israel has no intention of ending its control over the Palestinians or its theft of their land,” the group said in a statement. “Lending a semblance of legality to this ongoing act of plunder is a disgrace for the state and its legislature.”

Peace Now, a left-leaning group promoting the two-state solution, also criticized passage. “By passing this law, Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books,” the group said in a statement.

“By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution.”

J Street called the law “outrageous” and “irresponsible,” and “an unjust and illegal bill that could severely harm Israel’s reputation and the future of the two-state solution” in order to “shamefully appease and placate his (Netanyahu's) right-wing critics.

"Not for the first time, Israel’s leader has prioritized his political survival over the best interests of his country and his people.”

"This law will be appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, where we expect and hope that it will be struck down. But by passing such irresponsible legislation and forcing the court to overrule it, Israel’s government would only increase right-wing agitation against the rule of law and sow further divisions in Israeli society,” J Street said.

The group said that the fact it moved through the Knesset so quickly after President Donald Trump took office showed that the Israeli right no longer fears U.S. opposition to settlements and “urges friends and supporters of Israel in the American Jewish community, in Washington, and around the world to make clear both to our government and to Israeli leaders that this kind of legislation contravenes basic democratic and Jewish values and threatens Israel’s long-term security and survival."

Thus far, only Zionist Organization of America, which supports Israeli settlements, expressed support for the law, calling it “honorable and rational” in an email response to a query by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

“This bill properly provides legal protection to not throw innocent Jews out in the street, who, with [government] assistance, built on land that was not claimed by Palestinian Arabs at the time,” ZOA President Morton Klein wrote.

“Since it also properly provides compensation of 125% of the land value or comparable land to the Palestinians who did not claim the land at the time of Jewish development, the ZOA supports this honorable and rational solution.”

JTA contributed to this report