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Jewish Labor Committee, Weingarten blast undemocratic Israeli law

AFT President Randi Weingarten | Cliff Owen/AP

NEW YORK – The Jewish Labor Committee and Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten blasted the Israeli parliament’s passage of a “basic” right-wing undemocratic law.

Right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu narrowly pushed the law, similar to a constitutional amendment, through the 120-member Knesset (parliament) to cater to even-more-extreme elements of his governing coalition, at the expense of ties with the U.S. Jewish community, including Jewish unionists. Arab and some Jewish lawmakers strongly opposed it.

JLC President Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, denounced “divisive measures…proclaiming Israel is the ‘nation-state of the Jewish people,’ where the ‘right to exercise national self-determination is unique to Jews.’”

Appelbaum noted one of every five Israeli residents are Arabs. “At a time when democracy, respect for diversity, and solidarity are under threat around the world, and there is no visible movement towards a mutually acceptable negotiated two-state resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, passage of such a law seems doubly ill-conceived and ill-timed,” JLC added.

The law downgrades Arabic as an official language and also calls for “development of Jewish settlement as a national value.” That makes the law silent on the controversial status of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, virtually all populated by right-wingers. The settlements extremely fragment most of the proposed Palestinian homeland and draw world condemnation.

Israel has a responsibility, JLC said, to develop its nation for all of its citizens, “regardless of ethnicity, faith or background.”

“Facing serious external threats to its security, Israel can ill afford to divide itself from within,” JLC warned. “Measures that threaten the status of law-abiding minorities, or laws that favor some categories of Jews over others — whether on grounds of religion or of sexual orientation — can have no place in a country whose founding ideal is equality before the law.”

Weingarten, who is Jewish, used similarly strong language. She also linked the new law to Netanyahu’s close political ties to a fellow right-winger, GOP President Donald Trump.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has proposed — and by a slim majority the Israeli Knesset has passed — a so-called ‘nation-state law’ that repudiates the democratic, egalitarian and pluralist values on which the state of Israel was founded. It is a giant leap backward for the people of Israel. It is anti-Arab and anti-minority, and it embodies a bigotry and authoritarian-ism that I fear was energized and emboldened by the current U.S. president,” she said.

“We condemn this despicable law, as well as the anti-gay surrogacy law the Knesset recently enacted,” plus Israeli detainment of a rabbi who conducted a non-Orthodox marriage. “These anti-democratic and nativist actions make it more imperative to support the progressive voices in Israel who are fighting to reclaim Israel’s place as a functional, thriving democracy in the Middle East,” Weingarten concluded.

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