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The Knesset's Summer Blockbuster Bills

The Knesset's Summer Blockbuster Bills


Summer in Israel is probably best known for days at the beach, hiking in the hills and the many foreign tourists who come to visit the country. But the summer is also a critical time for Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, which meets for a three-month session that began on May 23 this year.

Intrigue surrounding this summer’s session began even before the session itself opened, as Prime Minister Netanyahu negotiated a deal to expand his coalition from 61 seats, the smallest possible majority in the body, to 66 seats. Under the agreement, the right-wing Yisrael Beitinu (Israel, our home) joined the government and its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, replaced Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) as Defense Minister.

The newly-expanded government has already passed a “sweeping” anti-terrorism law that gives creates new categories of terror-related crimes, expands possible sentences and gives the state other new powers to respond to acts of terror. This particular bill came in response to the brutal attack that took place in Tel Aviv earlier in June.

The Knesset also hopes to pass a budget during this session, along with a number of bills that have garnered significant controversy. One seeks to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that had opened up Israel’s public mikvaot to Reform and Conservative conversions. Another, which has been hotly debated both in Israel and abroad since the winter, would increase disclosure requirements on Israeli NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments. When this bill was first introduced, many suspected that it would disproportionately impact organizations affiliated with Israel’s political left. A recent report has confirmed this allegation, finding that 23 of the 25 organizations that would be affected are left-wing, and that no right-wing organizations would face increased requirements. While organizations on both the left and the right in Israel receive foreign funding, most foreign donors to right-wing NGOs are private citizens or foundations, whereas left-wing NGOs receive much more money from foreign governments.

Leaders of our Movement have spoken out against both the mikvaot bill and the NGO bill. URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs recently released a statement calling upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak out against the mikvaot bill, placing it within the larger context of actions by ultra-Orthodox politicians who are “holding the Jewish people hostage to their expression of Judaism, which not only excludes the majority of Jews in Israel and the world but denigrates the authentic Judaism we practice.”

Rabbi Jacobs has also been opposed to the NGO bill, and RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner issued a statement a couple of weeks ago to reiterate our Movement’s deep concern with this legislation. In his statement, Rabbi Pesner discussed the importance of human rights NGOs, arguing that, “For many years Israel prided itself on the existence of these organizations, and one of the most significant links that the American people have to Israel is a shared commitment to a strong, healthy and thriving democracy where human rights advocates are seen as part of the fabric of civic life.”

Our support for Israel compels us to speak in favor of a Jewish state that experiences security, upholds democracy and fosters religious pluralism. As this summer’s Knesset session develops, we will watch closely with the expectation that these values will be put into practice. To learn more about the RAC’s work in support of Israel, visit RAC.org’s issue page.

Feature Image courtesy of Adiel Io, Wikipedia.

Jacob Kraus is the campaign organizer at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, leading the Reform Movement’s Urgency of Now campaigns for criminal justice reform and immigrant justice. Based at the Union for Reform Judaism offices in New York City, Jacob grew up in Cincinnati, OH, where his family is affiliated with Rockdale Temple. He is a 2015 graduate of Macalester College.

Jacob Kraus

Published: 6/24/2016