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Israel’s president worried apartheid bill will strengthen critics

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin [Twitter]
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin [Twitter]

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin expressed rare opposition to a controversial piece of legislation that critics say will fully institutionalise apartheid in the country.

Rivlin issued a public call against new legislation that will legalise the creation of Jewish only towns and neighbourhoods. The clause with which Rivlin took issue specifically states that “the state can allow a community composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community.”

In a letter published today, Rivlin said that the contentious article would harm Jews around the world. In addition to allowing communities to discriminate on the basis of religion and nationality the bill will make Hebrew Israel’s only official language and permit judges to rule according to Jewish law.

Rivlin said he is “concerned that the broad nature of this article, that has no balance, could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world and in Israel, and could even be used by our enemies as a weapon.”

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Rivlin continued in this unusual letter, calling on the committee to “take a look at Israeli society and ask: in the name of the Zionist vision, are we willing to support discrimination and exclusion of men and women based on their ethnic origin?”

Others have denounced the bill saying “we have not found equivalence in any constitution in the world.” That is the view of the Knesset legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, who in his letter to the chairman of the committee that promoted the bill said that the “bill deviates significantly from the delicate balances required;” presumably the balance between upholding democratic values and the country’s Jewish identity.

Critics have pointed out that Rivlin’s opposition to the bill is hypocritical, given that he had previously supported laws that discriminate against non-Jews. The president had previously endorsed the Admission Committees Law passed in 2011, which critics say institutionalised racism. These committees are permitted to vet Israeli citizens on the basis of race and religion and block Arab’s from taking residence in a Jewish neighbourhood.

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In principal he appears to support apartheid laws, they insist, but he is unwilling to endorse anything that is too crude and will, as he says, “be used by our enemies as a weapon”.

The “Nation State Bill” has been debated a number of times in the Knesset. It passed its first reading last May. The vote was carried with the support of 64 lawmakers compared to 50 against.

Members of the Joint List, minority party in the Knesset, have compared the bill to South Africa’s 1950 Group Areas Act, noting that “the law establishing apartheid separated groups”. They said “South Africa was boycotted by the whole world, and you’re trying to bring a boycott on Israel”.

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