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But is it bad for the Jews? 6 things to know for July 10

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1. A controversial bill enshrining Israel’s Jewish character in a Basic Law of constitutional stature is garnering fresh criticism Tuesday morning as it heads toward the Knesset, drawing rebuke over a clause that allows towns to reject prospective burghers on the basis of their religion.

  • President Reuven Rivlin’s warning that the clause “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel” is the talk of the press, both for its sharpness and the rare intervention of the president into the legislative process.
  • Haaretz, which has criticized the bill over more than just the single clause, calls Rivlin’s letter “unusual.”
  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff notes that “Rivlin has expressed misgivings about the bill in the past, but Tuesday’s letter represents a significant expansion of his efforts to influence its outcome.”
  • Not surprisingly, the president quickly drew pushback: right-wing Israel National News’s top headline asks if Rivlin, a Likud stalwart who has drifted toward more moderate positions since becoming head of state, “is a president or a politician.”
  • The warning of deputy attorney general Raz Nizri over the bill at a Knesset committee discussion Tuesday morning also draws major attention. “It achieves nothing and will cause international damage,” reads a headline in the Ynet news site, quoting from Nizri, with reports on the meeting all calling the session “stormy.”
  • Others to criticize the clause include Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who said the Supreme Court could overturn it and urged MKs not to pass the law with it included. Nizri’s boss Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also spoken out against it.

2. Likud lawmakers are hoping to bring the bill to the Knesset for its final votes by next week, though it’s the bill’s biggest backers who may end up blocking it after Jewish Home threatened to vote against if another controversial clause, already removed, isn’t put back in, according to reports.

  • Israel Hayom notes other changes to the final version of the bill, including the addition of the word “Diaspora” to a clause that now reads “Israel will work in the Diaspora to strengthen the connection between the state and the Jewish people wherever they are,” and a clause stating that the setting of Hebrew as the official language is not meant to harm the standing of Arabic.
  • A source involved with the legislative sausage-making tells Haaretz, “There’s a 50 percent chance we’ll succeed in reaching understandings in the next few days. That’s a higher chance of passing the law than we’ve had until now.”
  • The Israel Democracy Institute’s Yedidya Stern calls the bill a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in Yedioth: “The nation-state bill overshadows the promise we made to ourselves and the world in our declaration of independence, the founding document of the State of Israel. There it was put down that the state is the national home of the Jewish people but at the same time ‘there will be total equality in social and diplomatic rights for all its citizens, without regard for religion, race or gender.” In 1948, when we were small and weak and attacked from all sides, we managed to put together a fair and ethical stance without taking away from our national resurgence. Will we now retreat from it?”

3. There’s also little consensus on Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Gaza and to punish and pressure Hamas.

  • Israel Hayom touts the move and says Kerem Shalom is just the start, a predictable stance for the pro-Netanyahu paper given the fact the closure is seen mostly as an answer to domestic critics who charge the government is not doing enough about incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza.
  • The move may be popular — illustrated by a snotty cartoon in populist tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth showing a truck driver claiming a shipment of kites, ostensibly to be used for starting fires, is for humanitarian purposes — but not everybody is on board with the idea.
  • Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini tears down the very idea of the cartoon and calls the move an “own goal” that will only increase pressure on Israel regarding the dire situation in the Strip without actually doing any good.
  • “Does somebody on high actually think that those launching the kites will be deterred by this? Or that their goal was to end the humanitarian crisis in the Strip? There are already endless reports on the crisis and Israel is already blamed more than Hamas,” he writes.

4. Israel’s apparent bombing of the T-4 air base in Syria on Sunday night is being seen as a signal to Russia and Iran that the IDF plans on continuing to act against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps entrenchment, whether or not Moscow thinks it’s a good idea.

  • “Israel … has chosen, knowingly, to insist on its red lines on a significant diplomatic week: three days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a week before the summit between Putin and US President Donald Trump in Helsinki,” Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes.
  • The same exact idea is expressed by Amos Harel in Haaretz, who adds that Israel is signaling not only that it wants Iran away from the Golan border, but out of Syria altogether.
  • “Iran’s weapons have longer ranges than the distance Russia is prepared to take into consideration. Israel declares that as long as there is any Iranian presence in Syria, even indirect, it feels threatened. Netanyahu is thus presenting a far-reaching demand – and signaling that he means to try to enforce it, despite the not-insignificant risks involved,” he writes.

5. There were no Jews up for the Supreme Court to replace Anthony Kennedy, and no real Jewish or Israeli angle, but the choice of Brett Kavanaugh still has some in the liberal Jewish community “concerned,” reports ToI’s Eric Cortellessa.

  • We are concerned that Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial record does not reflect the demonstrated independence and commitment to fair treatment for all that is necessary to merit a seat on our nation’s highest court,” Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
  • Kavanaugh is seen as a defender of religious liberty, though the kind that critics say allows discrimination on the basis of religion (see item 1).
  • JTA notes that “In 2015, Kavanaugh, a Roman Catholic, filed a dissent in a case involving religious employers and reproductive rights. The case stated that religious employers did not have to provide contraceptives but had to file a form telling the government they were not doing so, but Kavanaugh argued that the requirement violated religious freedom.”
  • Axios places Kavanaugh as the second most conservative judge in the modern era, if confirmed, just slightly more liberal than Clarence Thomas.
  • Yet despite the promises by Chuck Schumer to derail the nomination, the clean-cut candidate is seen as a shoo-in for the bench.

6. Israel is continuing to shake from earthquakes, both from the low intensity tremors, another one of which hit the Sea of Galilee Monday night, and from fears of what they could portend.

  • Israel’s Hadashot news TV reports that despite efforts to earthquake-proof building and infrastructure across the country, most remains ripe for collapse in The Big One.
  • Out of 1,600 schools deemed three years ago to be in danger of collapsing, just 53 have since been reinforced, according to the report. None of the 108 dangerous material factories, ordered two years ago by the Ministry of Environmental Protection to strengthen their structures, has completed the process, the report added. Only one factory has presented a plan to implement the move.
  • A homefront preparedness official tells Yedioth that there has been a 200 percent uptick in concerned residents turning to his office with complaints and concerns about the earthquakes.
  • Seismologist Avi Shapira tells the paper that the worries the small quakes are harbingers of a larger one are unfounded and that the area has experienced rashes like this before, including in 2013 and 2008.
  • “There’s no clear evidence that a wave of tremors like this necessarily leads to a strong earthquake,” he’s quoted saying. “Most chances are that nothing will happen, but it’s impossible to discount it completely.”
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