Rivlin slams Nationality Bill

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has heavily criticised the proposed Nationality Bill, saying it will “lend a hand to discrimination”.

In a letter to the Knesset legislative committee, the President wrote: “This clause stipulates that an applicant can be denied acceptance, for any reason, including reasons of religion and nationality. In the name of the Zionist vision, are we willing to lend a hand to discrimination and to excluding a man or woman because of their origin? The bill essentially enables any community, in the most general sense and with no restrictions or checks, to establish a community without Mizrahim, without Haredim, without Druze, without gays. Is that the meaning of the Zionist vision?”

The committee chairman, Likud MK Amir Ohana, hit back, saying: “When I read his letter, I don’t know if I’m listening to President Rivlin or to politician Rivlin, if there is even any difference between the two.”

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said:  “When faced with a dramatic act that changes Israel’s identity and buries the Declaration of Independence, a dramatic response is imperative. The President, in his words, represents the values of the Declaration of Independence.”

The ultra-Orthodox MKs and the Joint Arab List oppose the Bill, while the Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, said he opposes it in its current form.

The deputy Attorney-General, Raz Nizri, echoed concerns during a committee debate on Tuesday morning, saying: “The clause raises fundamental legal difficulties. It stands out in its unusualness. It permits personal discrimination against citizens because of their nationality. You are staining the law for no reason. This doesn’t help in any way and it causes real damage to the principle that you want to promote. Remove this clause from the bill.”

The Likud party is reportedly discussing removing one controversial clause. According to a Hadashot news report yesterday, Likud MKs were considering changing the text so that it instead refers to international support for Jewish settlement on land “under its control”.

The Bill, formally known as The Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, enshrines the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It confirms the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its homeland as a unique right for the Jewish people. It reinforces the symbols of the state, Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the Hebrew language as the official language.

In addition, the proposal anchors Israel’s connection with Diaspora Jewry and the right to preserve a heritage for all residents of Israel, regardless of religion or nationality. The Bill establishes the Hebrew calendar as the state’s official calendar and the commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day, the Jewish holidays, and the days of remembrance in the Basic Law.

The final draft is being debated in the committee stage before returning to the Knesset plenary for the second and third reading. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to push the Bill forward to become law before the current Knesset session ends on 22 July, but the process might be delayed by President Rivlin’s intervention.

If passed, the law would become one of the so-called Basic Laws, which underpin Israel’s legal system. It would require a super majority of 61 votes in order to be repealed.