The Israeli Knesset council disqualified a bill on Sunday that called for redefining Israel as a state for all its citizens, rejecting the argument that it must recognise the rights of its Arab minority citizens as equal to its Jewish majority.
The text of the bill stated its objective as “to anchor in a constitutional law the principle of equal citizenship. While recognising the existence and rights of the two, Jewish and Arab, national groups living within the country”.
The bill was sponsored by Balad, an Arab political faction member of the Joint List – an alliance of four predominantly Arab parties – in the Israeli parliament (Knesset).
It is clear that Israel considers democracy or even demanding it a threat to its existence,” Zoabi, who represents Balad in the Knesset
Haneen Zoabi, member of the Knesset
Haneen Zoabi, member of the Knesset and one of the bill sponsors, told Al Jazeera that the proposed bill only aimed to make Israel more democratic especially when it comes to treatment of its Arab citizens.
“The cancelation of our bill shows that democracy and equal rights do not go hand-in-hand with the way Israel defines itself as a Jewish state.
“It is clear that Israel considers democracy or even demanding it a threat to its existence,” Zoabi, who represents Balad in the Knesset, added.
According to the bill, the state is defined as “a state for all its citizens, whose regime is a democratic regime” and therefore must make itself as a state for both the national groups, Arabs and Jews equally.
It also called for a religion-state separation while guaranteeing the freedom of worship for all. The bill proposed to practically remove Judaism as the state-sponsored religion.
‘Privileges to Jewish citizens’
Jamal Zahalka, who co-sponsored the bill, told Al Jazeera that he wanted to place the Arab citizens of Israel on equal footing with their Jewish counterparts.
“If Israel wants to remain democratic state it must treat all of its citizens equally,” he said.
Under the current Israeli political and legal system, laws accord preferential treatments and privileges to its Jewish citizens because of their Jewishness.
Zahlaka acknowledges, however, that even if the Knesset’s presidency allowed the bill to come to the floor, the Jewish majority would have immediately defeated it.
If Israel wants to remain democratic state it must treat all of its citizens equally
Jamal Zahalka, Knesset member
The key theoretical impact of the bill will be the attempt to reconfigure the basic founding principles of the state of Israel as envisioned by its founders, a state for the Jewish people only.
The proposed bill also aimed to negate a key Israeli law called the “Right of Return”, which allows any Jew to become an Israeli citizen and take residence in Israel.
“This is a preposterous bill that any intelligent individual can see must be blocked immediately. A bill that aims to gnaw at the foundations of the state must not be allowed in the Knesset,” said Speaker Yuli Yoel Edelstein in a statement published on the Knesset website on Tuesday.
“This is the first time since my appointment as Knesset speaker five years ago that I am recommending that the presidium disqualify a bill.”
|Zahalka questioned the “constitutional biases” accorded to Jewish citizens under Israeli laws [Loay Abu Haykel/Reuters]|
Israel was founded in the aftermath of the 1948 war on what was then Palestine. Most Palestinians were expelled from their towns and homes by Jewish militias or fled in the course of the war. While Israel celebrate its yearly founding anniversary every May, Palestinians consider the event as a catastrophe or “Nakba” in Arabic.
At around 1.5 million, Palestinian Arabs form some 20 percent of Israel’s population.
Jewish state vs democratic state
Zahalka, who is also from the Balad party, questioned the “constitutional biases” accorded to Jewish citizens under Israeli laws.
“Why should Jews from around the world come over and become privileged citizens in the state while native Arab Palestinians relegated to a second-class status?” he asked.
“Israel is a racist and a contradictory country,” said Zahlaka, who plans to file complaint against the Knesset with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organisation of parliaments, of which Israel is a member.
Harvey Stein, an American-Israeli activist and filmmaker, told Al Jazeera that this issue is very complicated mainly because “Israel is a paradox”.
Stein praised Zahalka “for trying to make Israel more democratic” saying that “Israel wants to be a Jewish state and a democratic state at the same time”.
“Considering that most Israeli members of the Knesset are right-wing, they would rather have Israel Jewish first, and not necessarily democratic,” he added.