I am sure many of you have been following a number of different important events in Israel. As Richard Sandler, Chair of Jewish Federation of North America stated today: “This has been a challenging week in Israel-Diaspora relations. Israel’s ‘Nation-State Bill’ was voted into law early this morning, following fierce protest and vigorous debate. We are all strengthened having Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and are proud over her miraculous accomplishments in face of constant adversity.” (See attachment below for his full statement as well as an analysis of the “Nation-State Bill”.)
Over the past several weeks, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has been working closely with Jewish Federations of North American and the Jewish Agency for Israel to lobby members of the Knesset to reject passage of the final version of the Nation-State Bill. As you may have seen this morning (on CNN, New York Times or the Jerusalem Post), the law was passed by a vote of 62-55 with two abstentions.
The Nation-State bill is now a “basic law” in Israel, granting it quasi-constitutional status. Its stated purpose is to enshrine Israel’s status as the nation state of the Jewish People, but provisions of the bill are a dangerous check on Israel’s democratic principles. For example, the law downgrades the position of Arabic from an official language to one with “special status,” which further alienates both Israel’s Muslim population and other minority communities, including Christians. There is also important language which could be interpreted to limit the impact of Diaspora Jewry on pluralism in Israel, as well as mandate how the cultural, historic and religious heritage of the Jewish people in the State of Israel will be preserved.
Although we are dismayed by the passage of the legislation, it is important to note that our efforts were successful in one key provision of the bill: original versions included a stipulation that allowed for the creation of separate community settlements based upon religion or ethnicity. By pointing out that this provision was discriminatory and pro-segregation, we are pleased that Knesset members listened and ultimately removed this language in its entirety.
The bill comes at a time when the debate over religious pluralism in Israel is at a tipping point. This morning, police in Israel detained a Conservative rabbi who had presided over non-Orthodox weddings. The arrest of the Rabbi, Dov Haiyn from Haifa, has prompted widespread outrage: several other people who have officiated non-Orthodox weddings have turned themselves in to local police in solidarity and a large demonstration is planned to take place outside a police station in Tel Aviv. We continue to receive updates from JFNA Israel as well as from our own Israel Representative, Tali Lidar. Of course, I will continue to keep you updated as this situation evolves. You are also most welcome to write me directly with questions or concerns at email@example.com.
As the central hub of Jewish life in Philadelphia, our Jewish Federation represents Jews with a wide array of views on the modern state of Israel. Our work is focused on connecting all Jews, as well as our inter-faith partners and communities, to Israel by celebrating our shared values of diversity, inclusion and equality. We do recognize that this new law could potentially make this important work more challenging, however we cannot turn away from the children, elderly and others who depend on us every day.
Over the next few weeks and months, we will work closely with our interfaith and minority partners to ensure our relationships stay strong and channels of communication remain open.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 states that Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will continue to advocate for political leaders in our Jewish homeland to uphold Israel’s founding principles of democracy and equality.