US said to have sought clarifications from Israel on nation-state law

Washington reportedly asked how minorities might be impacted by controversial new legislation, accepted assurances that there would be no discrimination

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left and US Ambassador David Friedman, right, attend a ceremony in Jerusalem, May 21, 2017. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left and US Ambassador David Friedman, right, attend a ceremony in Jerusalem, May 21, 2017. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

The Trump administration reportedly asked for clarifications from the Prime Minister’s Office over the controversial, recently passed nation-state law, which enshrines Israel as a Jewish state, raising concerns over the implications for the country’s minorities.

In response, the PMO informed the White House that the legislation won’t impact the rights of any citizen in Israel or lead to discrimination against minority groups, Channel 10 reported Wednesday night.

A source familiar with the developments told the news channel that officials in Washington were particularly concerned about a clause referring to the promotion of “Jewish settlement” and what exactly that meant for minority groups.

The PMO confirmed that the nation-state law was discussed at a meeting between Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and US Ambassador David Friedman, but insisted it was raised during an update on internal matters in the country and that “there was no criticism or clarification from the American side.”

Washington has not publicly criticized the legislation and the White House was satisfied with the assurances it received from Jerusalem, Channel 10 said. However, US officials are also carefully following the Druze community’s protests against the law, the report said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Druze regional council heads at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The nation-state law, passed on July 19, describes Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people, and has been criticized as discriminatory toward Israel’s non-Jewish minorities. It has prompted outrage from the Druze community, which takes pride in its service in the Israel Defense Forces.

The TV report also said that in light of objections raised by some in the US Jewish community against the law — among them celebrity legal expert Alan Dershowitz — the Trump administration would like to see the legislation altered, but it gave no specifics and no sourcing for this claim.

On Wednesday, Horowitz presented Druze leaders with a compromise plan that would see three new laws enacted to anchor the status of Druze and Circassian communities in law and provide benefits to members of minority groups who serve in the security forces, the PMO said.

Druze leaders said they would examine the proposal and issue a response soon.

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. It also downgrades the status of Arabic so that it is no longer an official language in Israel.

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