Israel’s new Nation-State Law raises concerns in the Diaspora

By staff and wire reports

Jewish Louisville joined other national Jewish organizations last week in responding to Israel’s new law that enshrines in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law that the country is the nation-state of the Jewish people.
In a statement released Friday, July 20, the Jewish Federation of Louisville “condemned” the so-called Nation-State Law, which cleared the Knesset by a 62-55 vote.
The law, which had been sponsored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deals largely with the obvious signs of Jewish independence: affirming the flag and shield as symbols of the state; setting the Hebrew calendar as the country’s official calendar; recognizing Jewish holidays and days of remembrance and the national anthem; and naming Jerusalem as the capital.
But it also relegates Arabic to a “special” status instead of an official language, and it promotes the establishment of Jewish-only communities throughout the country.
Non-Orthodox groups in North America are particularly upset about a clause that defines Israel’s relationship to Jews abroad, but says nothing about Jewish diversity within the country itself. Critics call that a capitulation to the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel, who do not want the state to accommodate the religious practices of non-Orthodox Jews.
“This bill will further undermine Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry, alienate Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, and damage Israel’s reputation around the world,” The Federation statement says.
With regard to its relationship to the Jewish people The bill says Israel will “act to maintain the connection between the State and the Jewish people in the Diaspora.” The Federation statement says that line was added by ultra-Orthodox interests “to intimate that it should be making religious decisions without input from the Diaspora, nullifying what we had hoped was a two-way street in that regard.”
“We in Louisville are strong supporters of religious pluralism in Israel,” the statement continues, “and this bill seeks to nullify any influence we might have in that regard. Israel continues to discriminate against non-Orthodox Jewry and, in fact, recently forecfully arrested a Conservative Rabbi for the simple act of performing a marriage, taking him out of his bed at five in the morning.”
That’s a reference to Rabbi Dov Haiyun of Haifa, A Masorti (Conservative) rabbi who was recently arrested after the Haifa Rabbinical Court filed a complaint against him, saying he married a couple in violation of state and religious law. Police released Hailyun later that moning, ironically in time for him to attend a program at the president’s residence on religious pluralism in Israel.
“This is outrageous, obviously, and this [law] only further sanctions discrimination against Reform and Conservative Jewry in Israel,” the Federation statement says.
The statement also criticized portions of the law that recognize the formation of Jewish communities in Israel as a national value, without according similar statuses to non-Jewish groups.
“This law is superfluous since the reality is that this already happens,” the statement says. “By codifying it, non-Jews now see a law that they might consider discriminatory on its face, as they are not-included in this ‘national value.’”
Finally, the statement says the downgrading of Arabic, an official language of Israel since its founding, “will only further alienate the sizeable Arab minority in Israel….
“The reality is that the business of the State of Israel (in all its forms) is really conducted in Hebrew,” the statement says, “making this reclassification unnecessary. Israeli Arabs will feel even more like strangers in their own country.”
Other Jewish organizations – Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League – have come out forcefully against the bill and have urged the government to modify it.
Also in Louisville, Rabbis Robert Slosberg and David Ariel-Joel, both with long histories as advocates of religious pluralism in Israel, aligned themselves with statements by the Masorti movement (which Slosberg helped craft as chair of the Masorti Foundation Board) and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Jewry.
Some Orthodox groups have supported the bill. The National Council of Young Israel, which represents the Orthodox synagogues of the Young Israel movement, stated, “Passage of this bill was vital to ensure the continuity of the connection between the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and publicly pronouncing that Israel is the Nation-State of the Jewish People is an essential legislative act that is long overdue.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu called the bill’s passage “a defining moment” for the country.
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he added, “and respects the rights of all its citizens.”

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