Amnesty: Discriminatory Measures Undermine Arab Reps in Knesset

Arab-Palestinians elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, are being targeted by discriminatory regulations and legislation that undermine their ability to represent and defend the rights of the Palestinian minority population in Israel; Amnesty International said in a new briefing published Wednesday, ahead of upcoming Israeli elections on September 17.

MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash), a candidate of the Joint List, told the Middle East Monitor “We have been witnessing ongoing incitements against Arab MKs and against our political leadership, with the clear goal of delegitimizing our status and our role.” “These actions by the Netanyahu government are politically motivated, with the goal of preventing us from carrying out our legitimate activities against ethnic discrimination and racism in Israel and against the Israeli occupation,” he continued, stressing that “these actions will not deter us from continuing our struggle as political leaders and human rights defenders.”

Hadash Knesset Member Yousef Jabareen at MEMO’s conference in London on April 27, 2019

Hadash Knesset Member Yousef Jabareen at MEMO’s conference in London on April 27, 2019 (Photo: Middle East Monitor)

The report: “Elected but restricted: Shrinking space for Palestinian parliamentarians in Israel’s Knesset“, details how discriminatory legislative changes, proposed bills and Knesset regulations threaten the right to freedom of expression of Arab members of the Knesset (MKs). It also highlights the inflammatory rhetoric used by Israeli government ministers to stigmatize Arab MKs and exposes how bills put forward by Arab MKs have been unfairly disqualified on discriminatory grounds.

The increasing restrictions faced by Arab MKs are part of a pattern of blatant discrimination by Israeli authorities against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Arab-Palestinians make up 20% of Israel’s citizens and although Israeli and international law recognize their rights to political participation and representation, in practice they face widespread discrimination, including in terms of citizenship, housing, education and health care.

Israel’s “Nation-state” law (formally known as Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People), which came into force in 2018, defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, constitutionally entrenching inequality and discrimination against non-Jews. The law grants the right to self-determination exclusively to Jews, establishes that immigration leading to automatic citizenship is exclusive to Jews, promotes the building of Jewish settlements and downgrades the status of Arabic from an official language. 

In recent years, Israel authorities have stepped up their divisive rhetoric against minorities and marginalized communities, thereby shrinking the space for those speaking out in favor of Palestinian rights. They have threatened and smeared Arab-Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders and civil society organizations, as well as international groups including Amnesty International.

Amnesty International has identified a series of legislative amendments, regulations and practices in the Knesset that facilitate discrimination against Arab MKs. For example, a 2016 legislative amendment, which allows members of the Knesset to expel elected MKs by a majority vote, means that MKs who express peaceful political views or opinions that are deemed unacceptable by a majority of MKs can face expulsion from parliament. One Arab MK described this amendment as a “sword dangled over our heads by members of the Knesset who oppose us politically.”

Far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly said that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens… it is the nation-state of the Jewish people only,” and claimed that Hadash and Arab political parties are “attempting to eradicate the State of Israel.”

Senior Israeli government officials and far-right MKs regularly use inflammatory and stigmatizing language to describe their Arab counterparts in an apparent bid to delegitimize them and their work. Arab MKs who have dared to criticize Israeli policies have been labelled as “traitors” and faced calls for them to be “outlawed” or tried for “treason”. Knesset regulations originally intended to enforce ethical practices have been abused to unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression of Arab MKs.

Download the full Amnesty report (22 pages) as a PDF file