The representative body of British Jewry has said it will register its concerns with the Israeli ambassador after Israeli politicians passed a “regressive” new ‘Jewish Nation State’ law by a narrow majority.
The unusual intervention from the Board of Deputies, which seldom criticises Israeli policies, was made on Thursday after Israeli politicians voted through a Basic Law that critics say establishes a system of first and second class citizens.
In a statement, the Board’s senior vice-president Sheila Gewolb said: “Whilst we celebrate Israel’s Jewish-ness, there is concern that some of the measures in this law are regressive steps.”
She said democracy and diversity were two of Israel’s greatest strengths, and that “being Jewish is a wonderful thing, but this should not lead to doing down others”.
Addressing equality concerns, Gewolb said: “All people should be valued and Israel’s Arab and other minority populations should be a treasured part of society. The lesson of Jewish history is that societies are stronger when minorities are affirmed, and they decay when minorities are degraded.”
She added that the Board “will be writing to Israel’s ambassador to express concerns at these measures”.
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The concerns were echoed by others in the community, including the New Israel Fund, Yachad and religious leaders such as Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who tweeted that the law was “a serious change” and “very concerning”.
However it was applauded by Zalmi Unsdorfer, chair of Likud UK. “It shouldn’t have taken 70 years, but as with all things connected with our people, there may be a reason why this must be the moment for further light to be given to the nations.”
He said that Europe was busy subsuming the nation state and that by passing the law, “Israel is saying nation statehood is something to be proud of and will secure our people for the next 70 years while the rest of the world continues its experiment”.
He added: “It was sad to see Peace Now and their bedfellows demonstrating against this Bill last weekend on the same Tel Aviv streets on which their grandparents danced 70 years before to celebrate the birth of the very same Jewish state.”