President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter Tuesday to the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, expressing his strong objection to the nationality bill that seeks to enshrine into law the status of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
Rivlin's initiative is an unusual and defying move against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants to pass the legislation into law next week.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and the committee's chairman and members, Rivlin came out against article 7b of the bill, which would allow religious or national groups to establish communities that could exclude others, expressing concern it could hurt the Jewish people, Jewish around the world and the State of Israel.
He warned against giving legal approval to establishing communities "without Mizrahi Jews, without Haredim, without Druze, without LGBT. Is this the meaning of the Zionist vision?"
The joint meeting of the Knesset's House Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee reviewed the nationality bill on Tuesday morning, preparing for its second and third reading in the Knesset.
The president asked the committee to reexamine article 7b, which was included in the final version of the legislation despite the objection of the attorney general and other parties.
Rivlin's letter is as follows:
"Basic Law: Nationality has been put on your desk. This proposal deals with the State of Israel's most sensitive constitutional aspects. In accordance with that, significant and essential discussions are constantly being held on the legislation's articles, which have been amended over the years.
"Pursuant to my conversations with the prime minister, I turn to you in an unusual move, to draw your attention to article 7b of the bill, which determines that 'the state is authorized to allow a community, including members of a single religion or a single nationality, to establish a separate community.'
"The amendment to the admissions committees' bill (according to which families will be allowed to appoint acceptance committees in communal settlements in the Negev and Galilee--ed.) was passed into a law in the Knesset in 2011 during my tenure as the 18th Knesset's speaker.
"This law defends the right of small Jewish communities to maintain their social and cultural character and to refuse admission to candidates who might harm this character.
"In addition, the law determines the admissions committees will not refuse the admission of a candidate over considerations based on race, religion, gender, nationality, disability, personal status, age, parentage, sexual orientation, country of origin, point of view, or political affiliation.
"This legislation, which was passed into law after many discussions in the Knesset, reflects the Knesset's commitment to allow different communities to preserve their unique identities as well as preserve the ability to realize the Zionist vision in the State of Israel, and in particular in the Negev and the Galilee.
"This law, with all its complexity, sought to reflect the delicate balance between Israel's character as a Jewish and democratic state. The constant search for achieving this balance and preserving it is the Knesset's main obligation.
"Similar to the admission committees' bill, approved by the High Court of Justice, article 7b seeks to allow communities to preserve their unique identity. However, unlike the admissions committees' law, the bill presented before you today determines that a candidate can be refused admission to a community for any reason, including religion and nationality.
"I fear that the non-specific wording of this article, which lacks balance, might harm the Jewish people across the world and in Israel, and might even be used by our enemies as a weapon against us.
"I also ask for us to look inward, into the depths of the Israeli society: are we willing in the name of the Zionist vision to lend a hand to discrimination and exclusion of a man or a woman based on their origin? The bill before you allows any group, in the broadest of terms and without any monitoring, to establish a community with no Mizrahi Jews, Haredim, Druze and members of the LGBT community.
"Is this the meaning of the Zionist vision? I'm sure the bill's sponsors did not intend that and neither did you—the Knesset and committee members.
"In light of the aforementioned, I reiterate my request that your reexamine the significance and repercussions of the current wording of this article. I'm confident that the Knesset will act with the necessary responsibility in reviewing this bill, which seeks to add another chapter in Israel's developing constitution, as a Jewish democratic state."
Tourist Minister Yariv Levin's amendments to the nationality bill were published Monday ahead of its second and third readings in the Knesset.
To pass the legislation into law, the coalition will need a 61 MK majority. To that end, coalition MKs are not allowed to be absent from the Knesset until the end of next week—the last week of the Knesset's summer session.
The Haredim also criticized the bill. MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) said, "even after amendments have been made to the bill we are not pleased with it and would have preferred for it to never be created."
Haredi MKs denied rumors according to which an agreement was reached between the United Torah Judaism party and the Arab parties regarding the nationality bill, as reported by the Yated Ne'eman ultra-Orthodox newspaper, while the Kulanu party still supports the bill.