The Guest Blog

Guest blog post / open letter by Dr. Yoav Shemer-Kunz, Director of EINAT Network – the European Israeli Network on Article Two.

European and Israeli lawmakers urge Mogherini to voice its opposition to the ‘Jewish Nation-state Bill’ to be voted soon in the Knesset.

Pier Antonio Panzeri, Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), urges VP/HR Federica Mogherini to openly express the EU opposition to the ‘Basic Law: Israel the Nation-state of the Jewish People’, known as the ‘Jewish Nation-state Bill’, which is due to be voted in first reading in the Knesset plenary in May.

In a letter to the VP/HR of 20 March DROI Chair Panzeri explains that ‘this bill has all the ingredients to further undermine the cohesion of Israeli society by exacerbating the tensions between Jewish and Arab communities’, and he therefore urges the VP/HR to make it clear to her Israeli interlocutors that the draft bill ‘is out of line with the common values and principles of the EU-Israel partnership’.

Why now?

While this bill has been discussed in the Knesset for some years now, it seems that this time the Netanyahu government is ready to go all the way and make the draft bill into a basic law, despite the vocal opposition from left and center left mainstream parties and the concerns raised so far by some European governments and parliamentarians.

On 10 May 2017 the draft bill passed preliminary vote (48:41) in the Knesset plenary. On November 2017 the Joint List parliamentary group, the third largest group in the Knesset, representing the Arab citizens of Israel, urged EU decision-makers, during a delegation visit in Brussels, to voice their concern against the bill due to its dangers of deepen discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel. MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) expressed his deep concern over the bill due to its discriminatory nature in an Exchange of Views with DROI Committee on 24 January 2018.

On 13 March 2018, after months of intense discussions, a joint Knesset Committee of the House Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the draft law to be submitted for first reading, by a narrow majority of 9 votes in favour and 7 against.
9 Members of the Knesset (MKs) of the governing coalition parties of Benjamin Netanyhu (Likud, Kulanu, Shas, Yisrael Beitenu, Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism) voted in favour of the bill, while 7 MKs of the opposition (Zionist Camp, Joint List, Yesh Atid and Meretz) opposed the bill in the committee vote.

Why this bill is so problematic?

In fact, the current draft of the bill does not include any reference to civil equality among Israeli citizens, and does not even mention the simple existence of the Arab citizens of Israel, more than 20% of the entire Israeli population.
Moreover, the bill downgrades the status of the Arabic language in Israel : while Arabic has been one of Israel’s two official languages the establishment of the state in 1948, the bill stipulates that ‘Hebrew is the state language’ while Arabic ‘shall have a special standing’, hence weakening a key collective right of the Arab citizens of Israel.

However, by far, the most problematic element in the bill is its famous ‘separate communal settlement’ clause, which enables segregation based on religion and nationality in housing and planning polices. The clause stipulates: ‘The State may permit a community, including the members of a single religion or the members of a single nationality, to establish separate community settlements.’

In fact, since the Israeli Supreme Court Ruling of March 2000 in the Ka’adan family appeal against the Israel Lands Administration, Israeli authorities cannot legally forbid Arab Israeli citizens from living in communities which are built by the state only on the basis of their different nationality. The Ka’adan Ruling was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court in the legal struggle for full equality in Israel between Jews and Arabs, a decision which the current Knesset now tries to reverse by this semi-constitutional Basic Law.

MK Ya’el German, member of Yesh Atid party, chaired by Ya’ir Lapid, said during the debate in the joint Knesset committee before the vote of 13 March 2018:

“There is an agreement that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people, but only alongside the principles of liberty, equality and democracy […] the ‘separate communal settlement’ clause can be described with one word: Apartheid.”

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