Netanyahu defends Jewish State Law
Netanyahu defends Jewish State LawMiriam Alster/Flash90

The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the flagship seminary of Conservative Judaism, in New York has come out against Israel's proposed "Jewish State Law," which would enshrine into law Israel's status as the Jewish state. 

The "Jewish State Law" is comprised of two bills by three MKs: Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), Yariv Levin (Likud), and Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home).

Both bills, which are similar in their principles, effectively raise the Jewish influence on the legal system, elevating it over the "democratic" elements of Israel's identity as a "democratic and Jewish state."

The bill is defended by supporters as a reinforcement of Israel's Jewish character. Critics, however, have called the bill unnecessary and discriminatory, viewing it as a threat to Israel's democratic nature. 

The bill was passed by the Cabinet on Sunday and has stirred up controversy in the Israeli government with Netanyahu's demand that all coalition members vote in favor during a first Knesset reading. 

Both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), vocal opponents to the bill, have vowed to vote against it. 

In a written statement Wednesday, Arnold Eisen, JTS's chancellor, said that the seminary was "alarmed" by the Knesset's consideration of the bill. 

“We hope that the State’s lawmakers will have the wisdom to affirm Israel’s character as a democratic Jewish State in a way that does not relegate Israeli Arabs and other minorities to second-class status,” Eisen said in the statement.

Another concern of the Conservative organization was that the bill could have the effect of granting “one particular denomination of Judaism - Orthodoxy, as defined by a relatively small group of rabbis and politicians - official and permanent State recognition.”

Eisen concluded: “We urge that this bill be withdrawn in its current form and the values of Judaism and democracy, along with a commitment to a Jewish homeland, be appropriately balanced.”

JTS (and Eisen) is not the first Jewish American organization to criticize the bill. 

In a statement earlier in the week, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called the bill “well-meaning but unnecessary,” and that “some have sought to use the political process to promote an extreme agenda which could be viewed as an attempt to subsume Israel’s democratic character in favor of its Jewish one.”

Even the United States government chimed in with a comment by the State Department spokesman, Jeff Rathke, at a daily news briefing on Monday. 

"Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and all its citizens should enjoy equal rights. We expect Israel to stick to its democratic principles."

Minister of Economy and Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett responded to the US criticism during a radio interview for Army Radio. 

"I say to the Americans that when it comes to the affairs of the State of Israel - we will manage them [ourselves]," Bennett said on the "Good Morning Israel" show Tuesday morning. "We have to deal with the implications of [the law and] what kind of country we want."

"At the end it is our problem," he added. "This is an internal issue and I think that no one has the right to intervene with it."