Interior Ministry Finds No Fault in City Council's Oath to Maintain Afula's ‘Jewish Character’

Ministry says council members were 'sworn in according to law, and the addition that was stated does not invalidate the wording of the oath'

Interior Minister Arye Dery in Jerusalem, May 15, 2018
Alex Kolomoisky

The Interior Ministry will not take action regarding the addition to the Afula City Council’s swearing-in ceremony, in which the newly elected council members pledged to maintain the city’s Jewish character.

In response to a query by Haaretz on whether the ministry was planning to intervene and whether the council’s pledge was legal, the ministry responded that it had clarified the matter with Afula’s municipal legal adviser and that “the council members had been sworn in according to law, and the addition that was stated does not invalidate the wording of the oath. No reason to interfere in this decision was found.”

The Afula municipality, in responding to the same query, said the municipal bylaw about the oath “does not state that an addition to the wording of the declaration impairs its validity, as opposed to leaving words out or making a mistake in the wording. As long as the declaration is made in its entirety, even if wording is added, this does not harm the legal validity of the pledge. It is noted that the Interior Ministry supports this legal position.”

The attorney general’s office responded: “We do not issue legal opinions in the framework of a journalistic query.”

A number of legal experts told Haaretz that the very fact of the declaration will from now on cloud all of the administrative decisions the city makes with the suspicion of extraneous interests or exclusion of non-Jews. Some experts told Haaretz that it is doubtful that the declaration is legal and others said that even if it is legal, it comes as a direct continuation of the nation-state law.

According to Dr. Manal Totry-Jubran, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law, the declaration by the Afula City Council “contravenes the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, but conforms to and implements” the nation-state law, which also has the standing of a Basic Law.

According to Totry-Jubran, clause 7 of the nation-state law “clearly says that ‘the state considers the development of Jewish settlement a national value, and will work to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening.’”

The clause not only states that development of Jewish settlement is a national value, but it requires the state to promote this value, Totry-Jubran explained. And so in fact the declaration of the Afula City Council is not only legal, but it implements the basic law, she added.

On the other hand, in the Ka’adan case in 2000, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision not to sell land in the Jewish community of Katzir to Iman and Adel Kaadan, an Israeli Arab couple.

The court ruled at the time that the state (and its institutions, which include the local authorities) is not permitted to discriminate against Arabs in the sale of public land, and that the state must act according to the principle of equality.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, professor emeritus of the Hebrew University Faculty of Law, also connected the declaration of the Afula City Council to the nation-state law. “It’s impossible to declare a city as one that has a Jewish character, which actually [means] the exclusion of non-Jews...In my opinion this is almost undisguised racism. This is one of the bitter, stinking fruits of the nation-state law.”

Meanwhile, MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) has asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to declare the Afula City Council declaration invalid.

“Not only did the wording exceed what the law determines, but this was a racist, provocative ceremony that does serious damage to the Arab residents of Afula and the Arab public in general,” Jabareen wrote.

MK Esawi Freige (Meretz), who during the election campaign of Afula’s new mayor Avi Elkabetz had asked Mendelblit to disqualify Elkabetz for racism, and said he received no response, has also approached Mendelblit to protest the city council oath.

Earlier this week, MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) asked Interior Minister Arye Dery to intervene in the matter. “We must pay special attention to cases like this because they lead to a dangerous decline, which conforms neither to the values of the State of Israel nor to Jewish values,” Shaffir wrote. Dery has not responded to Shaffir’s letter, and did not respond to queries from Haaretz on the matter.

On Wednesday, MK Aida Touma-Sliman called for an urgent discussion of the matter, and the matter was sent to the Knesset Interior Committee for further discussion.

During the Knesset debate, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said he is declaring that Israel would remain Jewish as would its cities and the Jewish majority in the Negev and the Galilee would be preserved.

Addressing Arab MKs at the meeting, Smotrich said: “Because we are hospitable, we let all of you enjoy this abundance.”