EU ambassador to Israel under fire for criticising ‘racist’ Bill

Bill aims to preserve ‘Jewish character’ of state and allows Jewish-only communities

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: says Bill strikes a proper balance between Israel’s Jewish character and its democratic principles. Photograph: Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: says Bill strikes a proper balance between Israel’s Jewish character and its democratic principles. Photograph: Abir Sultan/AFP/Getty Images

 

The EU’s ambassador to Israel was summoned to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on Friday for a diplomatic dressing-down after he reportedly told Knesset members from the ruling Likud party that Israel’s controversial Nationality Bill “reeks of racism”.

“It’s bad enough that the European Union funds groups that undercut the state of Israel and promote illegal construction,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, referring to EU assistance to Palestinian building in the West Bank. “Now the EU is intervening in Israeli legislation. Apparently they don’t understand that Israel is a sovereign state.”

According to Israeli media reports, ambassador Emanuele Giaufret also warned that the Bill, which the government hopes to pass next week, “hurts Israel’s standing” in the international community.

“The legislation distances Israel from the acceptable norms in democratic nations,” the EU ambassador said, according to one of the lawmakers he had spoken to. “It discriminates against groups – particularly Israel’s Arabs – and harms the values Israel is trying to highlight.”

Jewish nature

The Nationality Bill would for the first time enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people”, establish the Jewish people’s “unique” right to self-determination, and determine a series of constitutional measures defining the Jewish nature of the country.

The aim of the Bill is to legally redefine Israel’s official status as a “Jewish state with a democratic regime”, rather than a “Jewish and democratic state”, as it is defined today in the country’s basic laws.

If passed, the law will require the state to preserve the country’s Jewish character and protect state symbols and sacred Jewish sites according to Jewish tradition.

The most controversial clause, which allows for Jewish-only communities, was criticised by the attorney general as discriminatory and a violation of Israel’s basic laws.

Proper balance

In a rare move this week, president Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to Knesset members urging them to amend the Bill, saying that the measure “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the state of Israel”.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu says the Bill strikes a proper balance between Israel’s Jewish character and its democratic principles.

“Israel’s democracy will continue to safeguard the rights of the individual and the rights of the collective; but the majority also has rights, and the majority decides.”

He said that the “the overwhelming majority of people want to ensure that Israel’s Jewish character is preserved for generations”.

A clause in the Bill making Hebrew the exclusive official language in Israel has also come under fire. Arabic would be relegated from an official language to one with “special status”, which would ensure its speakers the “right to accessible state services”.