Attorney General Warns Netanyahu of International Implications if Nation-state Bill Passed

Avichai Mendelblit tells PM that legislation, which includes clause paving way for segregated communities, could cause international backlash

File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit attending a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Dan Balilty / AP

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday of possible implications for Israel in the international arena if the Nation-State Bill is passed in its current form.

Sources confirmed to Haaretz that “the subject indeed came up” in conversation between Mendelblit and Netanyahu, but “there was no special meeting about" the legislation.

Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri also said, on Tuesday during a meeting at the Knesset, that the passage of the bill would have international ramifications, adding: “I stop here. We wear another hat. We are doing our job in closed rooms where we speak to the relevant political officials and there, more is said about the international implications.”

>> Explained: The controversial bill that would allow Jewish-only communities in Israel

The legislation, which would have a constitution-like status, would prioritize Jewish values over democratic ones. One controversial clause would allow the establishment of communities that are segregated by religion or nationality. The clause in the bill declares that “the state can allow a community composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community.”

Eyal Zandberg from the Attorney General’s Office has said the clause “is blatant discrimination” and that “this means the residents selection committee can hang up a sign saying ‘No entry to non-Jews.’”

The law would also define Hebrew as the only official language in Israel and instruct judges to look for precedents from Jewish legal rulings when Israeli law offers no guidance.

In addition to damage to Israel’s democratic image, the implications might involve agreements and treaties to which Israel is a signatory, as well as international law.

Meanwhile, Likud is looking into the possibility of changing the wording of one of the controversial clauses in the bill, clause 7b, which allows for the establishment of Jewish-only communities. The alternative wording is mainly declarative, and does not actually prohibit members of other ethnic groups from moving into Jewish communities.

According to the alternative, the cause would read: “The State of Israel regards itself as committed to the resolution of the League of Nations, which supported dense Jewish settlement in areas under its control.” This wording was suggested by Dr. Haggai Vinitzky of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, who presented it during a meeting at the Knesset Tuesday. Vinitzky’s wording is based on the document establishing the British Mandate in Palestine. Clause 6 of that document states that the British government would encourage dense Jewish settlement and would facilitate the immigration of Jews to areas of Palestine.

The wording is expected to impede international criticism of the law.

“It was clear to everyone that the wording of the original clause was very problematic, “a senior Likud official told Haaretz. “Vinitzky’s proposal solves a lot of problems, but it also makes the matter of settlement declarative rather than operative.”

The major uncertainty, the official said, was “whether to continue to advance the law, which would be devoid of significant tools to ‘Judaize’ the Galilee and the Negev, and whether there was an important aspect in principle in the very legislating of a nation-state law in Israel. Netanyahu is the one who has to decide.”

During the meeting it emerged that the current wording of the clause might open the door for the High Court of Justice to intervene and require equal construction for members of other religions and ethnic groups. Given that possibility, the right-wing parties decided to soften the language.

The Yisrael Beiteinu party also suggested two alternative wordings Tuesday for the controversial clause. MK Oded Forer submitted the party’s objections to the bill and suggested wording similar to Vinitzky’s: “The State of Israel regards itself as obligated to establish and strengthen dense Jewish settlement in areas of the Land of Israel under its control.”

Another alternative suggested by Forer was: “The State of Israel will be open to and encourage immigration of Jews and the ingathering of the exiles and will work to develop Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.”

The Knesset’s legal adviser said Forer’s suggestions were better than the wording presented by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which is working on the legislation, and these suggestions should be developed “to avoid the damage. It corresponds well with the Zionist ethos.”

In criticizing the current wording, Forer told the committee: “What will happen in the city of Arad, when enough Gerer Hasidim move in and claim that ‘Jews who aren’t Jews according to what the Gerer Rebbe decided won’t be able to live in the city’”?

Another controversial clause, 7a, would allow every person to maintain his or her culture, education, heritage, language and identity. The committee’s legal adviser, Gur Bligh, said that he could not rule out the possibility that the clause would discriminate against women based on the leeway it would give for everyone to maintain their own values.