'Could Harm Jews'

Israeli President Warns Jewish-only Communities Undermine Zionist Vision

Nation-State Bill allows 'discrimination and exclusion based on ethnic origin,' Rivlin says in damning letter. Knesset legal advisor agrees: 'no equivalent clause in any constitution in the world'

FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
Mark Neiman / GPO

Israel's president issued a public call against new legislation that could allow separate communities to be established for Jews only, calling it discriminatory. In a letter published Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin expressed concern that approving the contentious article of the so-called Nation-state Bill would harm Jews around the world.

Israel's hardline nation-state bill

According to Rivlin, he is "concerned that the broad nature of this article, that has no balance, could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world and in Israel, and could even be used by our enemies as a weapon."

>> The Proposed Nation-state Law Is Discriminatory and Nationalistic | Haaretz Editorial

Rivlin continued in this unusual letter, calling on the committee to "take a look at Israeli society and ask: in the name of the Zionist vision, are we willing to support discrimination and exclusion of men and women based on their ethnic origin?"

Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon also wrote a letter on Tuesday to the chairman of the special committee for promoting the nation-state bill, saying the bill in its current version "deviates significantly from the delicate balances required." 

Yinon further added that "we have not found equivalence in any constitution in the world" to the clause suggested in the bill, allowing exclusive communities. Yinon recommended that the committee not approve the bill in its current version. 

The first version of the bill was approved in first vote by the Knesset in April. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also commented on the bill after Tourism Minister Yariv Levin reached understandings with most of the coalition parties on it wording. Levin has yet to reach agreement on all the details before the vote on the law scheduled for Monday next week.

“This law is important to us,” Netanyahu told the party leaders. “Just as there are laws important to you. I respect this and you should also respect that this law is very important to us.”

'Arabic was never an official language in Israel'Haaretz

Clause 7b of this bill specifically states that “the state can allow a community composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community.”

President Rivlin wrote of this clause that "it would essentially allow any community to establish residential communities that exclude Sephardic Jews, ultra-Orthodox people, Druze, LGBT people. Is that what the Zionist vision means?"

This clause raises constitutional problems. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that “there is no place for such a clause in its present form.” Attorney Eyal Zandberg of the Attorney General’s office added that “this is blatant discrimination this means that the residents selection committee can hang up a sign saying ‘no entry to non-Jews.’”

Meanwhile, intense negotiations are continuing over the nation-state bill. The committee for advancing the bill through the Knesset is meant to meet Tuesday to approve a final version, but that hearing could be postponed if no agreement is reached on certain clauses by then. 
“There’s a 50 percent chance that we’ll succeed in reaching understandings in the next few days. That’s a higher chance of passing the law than we’ve had until now,” said a source involved in the legislative process.

The coalition partners are seeking to amend three more sections of the nation-state bill: the section that permits the establishment of towns for Jews only; the section that reduces the status of the Arabic language from “official” to “special”; and the section instructing judges to look to precedents from Jewish legal rulings in instances where Israeli law offers no guidance.