Update on the Nation-State Bill

UPDATE 7/19/18: Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is disappointed over Israel’s passage of the controversial Nation-State Bill

Israel’s “Nation-State Bill” was voted into law in the early hours of this morning (Israel time), following marathon negotiations. This “basic law” raised many questions and concerns throughout the long period of deliberation and sparked vigorous debate involving all Knesset factions. 

"This law came a long way since it was first proposed and we were part of that process. Working with many other groups and people, we succeeded in ensuring removal of some of the most problematic aspects of the bill from the final version. Still, we were disappointed with the law that ultimately passed. We take some comfort in the fact that so many in the Knesset were open to listening to, and considering our concerns, along with officials in the Prime Minister’s office. We may not have achieved all of our goals, but we were an important part of the conversation.

~ Excerpt from Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman letter 7/19/18

While we are disappointed by the decision of Israeli lawmakers to pass this bill, we will not loose heart. We are all strengthened by having Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and are proud of her miraculous accomplishments in face of constant adversity. We will double our efforts to enhance communication and dialogue with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic. Consider joining the conversation and registering for the JFNA General Assembly this October.

7/16/18: From Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America

Never a dull moment in Israel - especially in summer. The Gaza border was quiet all day yesterday, and let’s hope the unofficial ceasefire holds. At the same time we spent the day with our partners at the Jewish Agency in the Knesset giving our passionate and direct input on the Nation-State bill. We have been working to drive home Federations’ concerns about this proposed legislation. This bill has challenges and some positive elements. Our voice needs to be heard and we are ensuring that it is.

There has been significant maneuvering by a number of different factions to shift wording and to address these concerns. It’s too early to say what the final form of the legislation will be. This memo will provide insight into some of the specific issues on which we have focused. The Nation-State bill is a proposed “basic law” that would enshrine in legislation Israel’s status as the nation state of the Jewish People. Various bills of this kind have been proposed and shelved over the years but this one is close to being enacted. While the aim seems worthwhile enough, there are at least three provisions in the draft that are highly problematic, with potential ramifications for Jews across the world.

First, the bill would make Hebrew the only official language of Israel. Historically, under the King’s orders during the British rule of Palestine there were three official languages: Hebrew, English and Arabic. When the British Mandate ended, English lost its status and Israel was left with two official languages. In Israel, Hebrew is the de facto primary language and this bill would reaffirm that reality on the ground. Out of respect for the Arab population in Israel, this new bill includes wording to the effect that Arabic will have a “special status” to be determined by a separate law and that its standing shall not be prejudiced. However, no matter what intention, the effect of such a change will appear to be a demotion of the Arabic language to second class status, because it alters a previous and long-standing status quo.

Second, a provision was included in the bill that would allow Israelis to establish closed communities, in which members of other religions or nationalities would not be allowed to live. This was by far the most controversial section of the bill, prompting the President of Israel and the Attorney General and many others to object. Thousands protested in Tel Aviv and complaints about this section reportedly reached Congress as well. At a meeting earlier today, it appeared that the coalition agreed to change this language.

Finally, the bill contains a provision which tries to define the obligation of the State of Israel to Diaspora Jewry. Israel-Diaspora relations are a two-way street – a point I tried to drive home in many meetings and consultations about this bill. Together with the Jewish Agency we strongly objected to the recently revised wording of this section, apparently aimed at limiting the influence of Diaspora Jewry over religious pluralism issues in Israel. Through a series of meetings and consultations with decision-makers, we voiced our concerns about this section loud and clear.

This proposed Nation-State bill will most likely come to a final vote within the next day or two, before the Knesset breaks for its summer recess. It has potential ramifications for all who work to defend Israel’s character or who are associated with Israel simply by virtue of being Jewish. As I sat in the Knesset listening to Israeli leaders vigorously discuss this bill, I had the opportunity to reflect once again on the challenges Israel faces in balancing its democratic and Jewish character. Passions run high on these issues and there are no easy answers.

JFNA is on the ground making sure the concerns and perspective of North American Jewry are heard. We will continue to keep you updates as consideration of the bill continues.

Jerry Silverman
President & CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America


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