Former Shin Bet chief pleads with president to not sign nation-state law

Ami Ayalon tells Rivlin his ‘hand will tremble’ if he moves to approve controversial legislation, warns it will deepen rifts between Israeli ‘tribes’

Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A former director of Israel’s secret service appealed Wednesday to President Reuven Rivlin and urged that he not sign a law that enshrines Israel as a Jewish state, warning that it will further divide Israeli society and violate the commitment the country has to its minorities.

Ami Ayalon, who headed the Shin Bet internal security agency in 1996-2000 and served as a government minister and lawmaker for the Labor party for several years, wrote to Rivlin asking that he refrain from putting his signature on the legislation to prevent it from going into effect.

“I believe that your hand will tremble once you reach for the pen,” Ayalon told Rivlin in the letter, which was titled, “Mr. President, Please Do Not Sign the Jewish Nation State Law.”

As head of state, the president signs every law passed by the Knesset, except those pertaining to his office.

The nation-state law — which for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities, the international community and Jewish groups abroad.

President Reuven Rivlin attends a memorial ceremony marking on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, June 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“While as president you have made national unity a signature issue, the Jewish Nation State Law deepens the rift between the various ‘tribes’ in Israeli society,” Ayalon said.

He added that the law excludes Arab citizens who “were promised a partnership upon the establishment of the state” and were asked “to take part in building the country on the basis of full and equal citizenship,” a quote from Israel’s Deceleration of Independence.

“The law violates the partnership agreement we signed with tens of thousands of Druze, Bedouins, and Circassians who served and fought with us, and many of whom have fallen in battle,” Ayalon wrote.

On Monday, the co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, which supports Jewish-Bedouin coexistence, claimed that Rivlin had vowed to sign off the law in Arabic in protest to a clause that downgraded the Arabic language from official to “special” standing.

Dr. Thabet Abu Rass said Rivlin made the comment at the sidelines of a conference in the Bedouin village of Kuseife that aimed to bolster employment rates in the Arab community. According to Abu Rass, at the end of the conference the president told him: “I can’t refuse to sign the law, because then I will have to resign. But if I sign it — I will sign in the Arabic language.”

A spokesperson for Rivlin on Tuesday declined a Times of Israel request to confirm or comment on the matter.

President Reuven Rivlin (L) meeting with Druze community leaders at his residence in Jerusalem on July 29, 2018. (Mark Neiman/ GPO)

On Sunday, Rivlin met with regional council heads from the Druze community, who also slammed the law. He told them that “our partnership exists at the core and foundation of this state.”

Since the beginning of the week, two Druze army officers have said they intend to resign their commissions in protest to the law.

Rivlin has in the past publicly expressed his concerns over the law, which took years to write. In 2014 he questioned the need for the law and in the days before the bill was to be voted on, he urged lawmakers to remove a clause which would have allowed the establishment of Jewish-only communities. The clause was dropped from the final version of the law.

The legislation, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities. The law became one of the basic laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

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