Far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s faced a challenge to his authoritarian power Tuesday, July 10, when President Reuven Rivlin, the attorney general’s office, and the Knesset’s legal adviser joined forces in opposing the PM’s flagship legislation, the racist Jewish Nation-State bill.
Rivlin wrote a letter to MKs criticizing a section of the bill that declares “The state may allow a community, including members of one religion or of one nationality, to maintain a separate communal settlement.” According to Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), “this bill would enshrine apartheid.”
If the proposed Jewish nation-state bill is passed, it will become one of Israel’s Basic Laws giving it constitutional heft. The bill declares that Israel is the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” not of its Jewish and Arabs citizens. It would make Hebrew the only official language of the state, with Arabic receiving a “unique status.”
During the Knesset debate on the bill last Tuesday, Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) held up a sign declaring “Jews Only.” Jabareen quipped that the sign “can be hung up in any new community that will be founded based on the section that permits settlements for Jews only. In the spirit of the law, it is also possible to assign seats in the Knesset only to Jews, he remarked.”
MK Jabareen said, “There is severe racism in the proposed bill. I haven’t heard of a Jew who wanted to live in Umm al-Fahm that was not allowed to do so. Unfortunately, the socioeconomic situation there is so difficult that Jews do not want to live there. Every citizen is entitled to live wherever he or she wishes. The reasoning of this law to build for Jews only is racist.”
Jabareen was asked whether, in his opinion, Jews could live in the future in East Jerusalem. “East Jerusalem is occupied territory, and that’s a separate issue. I’m only talking about Israel within in 1948 borders, in which all citizens have a basic right to live wherever they wish.”
Apropos the clause allowing exclusive communities, the Knesset’s legal adviser Eyal Yinon commented: “We have not found anything equivalent in any constitution anywhere in the world.” Attorney Hassan Jabareen, the general director of rights group Adalah, also warned about the nature of the proposed legislation: “This bill features key elements of apartheid, such as housing segregation and the creation of two separate tracks of citizenship based on ethno-religious identity,” Jabareen said. “The Jewishness of the Israeli state would override any other constitutional principle or any other law and would even be above the Knesset itself.” Attorney Jabareen continued: “A constitution is supposed to guarantee a state for all its citizens. It must not explicitly exclude the Palestinian citizens, a non-immigrant indigenous minority, that makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population.”
For a bill to become law, it must be passed by the Knesset in three readings. The first reading of Netanyahu’s Jewish Nation-State bill was approved last April.