A bill, “Basic Law: Israel – A democratic, multicultural and egalitarian state,” was proposed last week by Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) to serve as a response to the discriminatory Jewish nation-state bill. “Instead of dark ideas promoting a hierarchy in the status of citizens and ethnic superiority for Jews, I propose enlightened ideas of equal citizenship and significant multiculturalism for all citizens,” Jabareen said.
The far-right “Jewish nation-state bill”, which is strongly backed by the coalition and the government, would, if passed, be a Basic Law, with constitutional weight, that declares that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. This latter proposal, which has passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset and which is being worked on in a legislative committee, includes many declarative elements about the Jewish homeland and reinforces many already existing laws as a Basic [Constitutional] Law, about the state flag, its national anthem and national symbol, the right of any Jew to immigrate to Israel, and other ethnically discriminatory issues.
The opponents of this bill have raised concerns about articles that could bring changes to the status quo, such as one stipulating that the Supreme Court should consider Jewish tradition in cases for which there is no legal precedent. Two particularly controversial articles include one that declares that Hebrew is the sole official language, while Arabic (which is currently also considered an official language, along with English), is to be demoted to a language having a “special status, and another which gives legal sanction to “separate communal settlements” that can be established exclusively for one religion or nationality.
Jabareen’s counter bill declares: that the country’s borders are defined by the pre-1967 armistice lines; that the state will have “total civil, cultural and national equality between all its citizens”; that “Israel is a democratic and egalitarian state based on values of human dignity, liberty and equality, in the spirit of the International Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter”; and that “[a]ll legislation must be interpreted according to this [previous] article.” The bill also stipulates that Israel is the state of all its citizens, Jewish and Arab, and that its resources and institutions will be used equally for all citizens.
Jabareen’s proposal also seeks to change the county’s anthem, flag and state symbol to show the connection to both Jewish and Arab citizens, and that Hebrew and Arabic are both to be official languages that can be used equally in all three branches of government. In addition, it states that Arabs will have “appropriate representation” in all government institutions. The bill would also cancel any existing laws that contradict this spirit.
Far-right opponents of the bill have nicknamed it “the Palestinian nation-state bill.” Likud MK Nurit Koren called the bill “science fiction.” “I have a feeling they won’t accept my suggested change. The members of the Joint Palestinian List have gotten used to full rights without any responsibilities or contributions to the state. Knesset Interior Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) called on the Joint List MKs to resign from the Knesset, saying they’re acting like a part of the Palestinian Authority. “They have crossed a red line. This is an incomparably disrespectful. The MKs from the Joint List are choosing to promote a Palestinian agenda in the Israeli legislature. They should quit and run in Gaza,” Kisch stated.
Jabareen responded to the criticism, saying that Likud MKs have started an incitement campaign against him and the Joint List. “Has the political discourse in this country so deteriorated that I cannot propose a basic democratic idea? I challenge all the opponents of my proposal to point to one sentence that is not democratic. They’re hysterical because my proposal exposes their racist, condescending discourse,” he said.
Jabareen has voiced his opposition to the Jewish nation-state bill in meetings he attended with European Union officials in Brussels in November and January, saying that it violates the EU trade agreement with Israel, which explicitly states: “[T]he respect for human rights and democratic principles guides the internal and international policy of both Israel and the EU and constitutes an essential and positive element of the agreement.” Furthermore, at Israel’s request the EU-Israel trade agreement includes “a Joint Declaration on the importance both parties attach to the struggle against xenophobia, antisemitism and racism.”