The government coalition has reached an agreement regarding the clause in the “Jewish nation-state law” concerning the establishment of Jewish-only communities, Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said Sunday.
Bennett said he had proposed the new wording of the clause, which states: “The state sees developing Jewish communities a national value and will act to encourage, promote and establish them.” The amended clause was approved by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, said Bennett.
The coalition has been making efforts over the past few days to reach agreement on the clause, which seeks to allow the establishment of Jewish-only communities, and became the target of harsh public and legal criticism.
President Reuven Rivlin last week told the special committee that the bill “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel, and could be used as a weapon by our enemies.”
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The original version of Section 7B of the bill stated that the state would allow groups to establish separate communities, “on the basis of religion and nationality,” thus enabling the establishment of Jews-only communities. The clause had elicited harsh criticism on both legal and public policy grounds. The Yisrael Beiteinu party had objected to the original clause because it felt it would harm Russian immigrants who are not Jewish, but it is now expected to support this version.
Earlier Sunday morning, during the efforts to work out a compromise on the clause, Habayit Hayehudi had objected to a similar wording on grounds that it did not facilitate the establishment of communities for Jews only. That version, sponsored by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, stated, “The state will be open to Jewish immigration, will work to promote, encourage, establish and develop Jewish settlement, and will work to gather in the exiles.”
The new version of the nation-state bill also removes the clause that gives every resident “the right to preserve his culture, education, heritage, language and identity.” The word “education,” had been added at the request of the Haredi parties, and objectors warned that this could legitimize the refusal to teach core subjects in Haredi schools, or to teach Hebrew in Arab schools. Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon had feared that the reference to preserving culture and heritage would permit discrimination against and exclusion of women.
Another clause that will not be included in the bill is one that directs judges to draw on Jewish law in cases where state law or legal precedents provide no guidance in a case. This clause had been removed earlier, before the bill passed its first reading, although MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) had said he would fight to have it restored.
The chairman of the special Knesset committee charged with advancing the bill, MK Amir Ohana (Likud) rejected this request, on grounds that Jewish law discriminates against LGBT individuals.
After the compromise wording on Jewish communities was released, Meretz chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg said, “The basic law that advanced today is not a basic law on nationality but a basic law of racism. This is a law that was born in sin and advanced through arm-twisting among the extremist and nationalist elements in the coalition.”
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) indicated that the new wording was even worse than the original. “While the earlier wording pretended to be neutral, stating that separate communities were possible for each group, now the cat is out of the bag and it’s stating explicitly that only Jewish communities will get priority. This is a model of undisguised racism, suited only to corrupt rulers who have lost all shame.”
Mendelblit and his deputy, Raz Nizri, warned of possible international implications of the clause if it was approved. Yinon had asked that the clause not be approved, because it “allowed sweeping exclusion of entire groups in the State of Israel.”
Dr. Amir Fuchs, who heads the Israel Democracy Institute’s Defending Democratic Values program, said the proposed text violates the principle of equality and contravenes Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which it states that the state “will work to develop the land for the benefit of all its residents.” Fuchs said the new clause will allow the state to claim that Jews can get preference for such benefits as the “buyer’s price” (mehir lemishtaken) housing program or could justify the existence of admissions committees not just in small and outlying communities but also in certain cities or neighborhoods.
Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, who took part in the committee’s discussions, said: “The coalition’s insistence on not adopting compromise versions keeping Arabic as an official language prove that the nation-state law wants to base the Jewish character of the State of Israel on deepening the exclusion of the Arab populace.”
On Saturday night, thousands of people attended a rally to protest the bill, including human rights groups and Knesset members from Meretz and the Joint List. Khenin said at the rally: "People are dying in Gaza, injured in Sderot, and what is the prime minister doing? Not trying to reach an agreement and ensuring calm for the south's residents, but instead trying to pass a racist, inciting, dividing law. I'm here to protest against a government that has no answers, and that chooses to cover up for that by attacking its own citizens and the democratic space."