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Amid fear of global backlash, Likud weighs nixing ‘Jewish-only’ communities bill

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Avigdor Lieberman, sit at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, May 23, 2016.
AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party is said to be mulling over a clause in the Nation-State Bill that would enable the establishment of “Jewish only” communities over concerns of international backlash.

The controversial Likud-sponsored legislation is meant to enshrine the Jewish character of the state by declaring it “the national home of the Jewish people” and establishing its “unique” right to self-determination.

Specifically, the clause which has sparked unease among politicians and legal advisors states that “the state can allow a community composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community.”

Expressing concern in a rare letter of rebuke, President Reuven Rivlin explained that the clause “would essentially allow any community to establish residential communities that exclude Sephardic Jews, ultra-Orthodox people, Druze, LGBT people.”

“Is this what the Zionist vision means?” he questioned.

Likud lawmakers are said to be considering amending the text of the 7b clause to wording that does not actually prevent members of other ethnic groups moving into Jewish communities.

Samuel HABTAB (AFP)

According to Haaretz, the alternative would read: “the state of Israel regards itself as committed to the resolution of the League of Nations which supported dense Jewish settlement in areas under its control.” The rephrasing is said to be based on a document that established the British Mandate in Palestine that encouraged Jewish immigration.

This apparent softening of the language is expected to stave off international criticism, a senior Likud official told Haaretz.

Rivlin the day before called on Israel’s parliamentary legislative committee to “take a look at Israeli society and ask: in the name of the Zionist vision, are we willing to support a discrimination and exclusion of men and women based on their ethnic origin?”

Echoing State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit who said “there is no lace for such a clause in its present form,” Rivlin added that “the broad nature of this article...could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world and in Israel, and could even be used by our enemies as a weapon.”

Criticism also followed by the Knesset’s top legal adviser Eyal Yinon as well as deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri, who warned of international ramifications.

Yinon, in a letter to the chairman of the bill’s committee said, “it deviates significantly from the delicate balances required” and added that “we have not found equivalence in any constitution in the world.”

Abir Sultan (Pool/AFP/File)

In Yinon’s opinion, the clause could cause the High Court of Justice to overturn the bill and he therefore urged lawmakers “not to pass the law with it included.”

Government coalition partners are currently fiercely debating two other controversial aspects of the so-called "nation state" bill: an article which reduces the status of the Arabic language from “official” to “special” and an article which gives Jewish legal rulings jurisprudence in cases where none exist in Israeli law.

The nation state bill has come under harsh criticism from left-wing politicians and activists in Israel.

"The nationality bill is a racist and unnecessary legislation. Its entire purpose is gain for Netanyahu at the expense of Israel's Arab citizens and Israeli democracy," Tamar Zandberg ,leader of the left-wing Meretz party said.

The nation state bill was sponsored by Likud member Avi Dichter in 2014 but only passed its first hearing in May, 64 votes for and 50 against. A number of versions of the legislation have been drafted by right-wing politicians but none have made it through all three readings to become law.

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