“I declare with astonishment and sorrow the death of democracy . . . The funeral will take place today in the plenum.”
— Knesset member Ahmad Tibi
The Knesset overnight Wednesday passed into law the contentious nation-state bill that for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.
Lawmakers approved the bill in its second and third readings overnight, with 62 voting in favor, 55 opposed and two abstaining, after hours of heated debate in the Knesset chamber.
Similar to a constitution, the Basic Laws underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws. The nation-state bill, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.
The core right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition have waged a long, public and legislative campaign against groups whose original and primary aim is to inform Israelis about what their government is doing in the occupied territories. . . . The goal is to protect policies and politicians by limiting or distorting what voters know.
For 10 years or so, I regularly gave lectures to Israeli army units on the need for a free press in a democracy. It was my army reserve duty, in the army’s Education Corps. The qualifications for such duty, as a graduate school professor said when he told me to apply, were “higher education and a low medical profile.”
So I spoke before officers and mechanics, tank crews and pilots, and often to infantrymen serving in the West Bank. As soldiers they feel uncomfortable with journalists watching them, I explained, but as citizens they needed the media to shine light on the government’s actions — including its military operations. A subtext was that it was a dumb idea to stick your hand over a photographer’s lens. I don’t know if my civics lessons had any effect, but I was impressed that the army wanted them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, on the other hand, thinks it’s a great idea to put the heavy hand of the law over every lens pointed at Israeli soldiers. On Sunday, a committee of cabinet ministers (half from Netanyahu’s Likud party) voted to support a bill that would outlaw photographing confrontations between soldiers and Palestinians.
“Equality and justice are strategic threats. As a member of the Knesset, I am asked to be loyal to racism, loyal to apartheid laws, loyal to my oppressor. In Arab schools, we cannot study our own history, our own literature. We cannot control our own textbooks. We learn that we don’t have any special relation to our homeland. We pay taxes so that our children can learn how inferior we are in our homeland. We must thank Israel every day for not expelling us in 1948.”
— Haneen Zoabi, Israeli member of the Knesset
Haneen Zoabi is a member of the Israeli Knesset and the first woman elected to the Israeli Knesset on an Arab party list. She’s an unrelenting advocate for equal citizenship rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and despite repeated attacks of all kinds, she remains unrelenting in her call for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Lands.
Zoabi considers herself a straight up feminist. She says “real feminism must acknowledge the discrimination against Arab women in Israel, and real feminism must know to identify with and struggle alongside them, at the national, civil and social levels.”
Zoabi joined forces with the Balad Party a year after it was founded in 1997. A key guiding principle of the Party is to maintain a one-third quota for women candidates. The party advocates for the rights of Palestinians, legally designated as ‘Arab Israelis’. Zoabi has been banned from the Knesset five times for taking strong stands in support of Palestinian rights.
“The committee’s decision constitutes a harsh blow to my freedom of political activity as an elected official. Without funding from the group extending the invitation, I will of course not be able to travel, due to the large travel expense and the round of lectures that is planned. This is activity that is a fundamental and integral part of my role as an opposition Knesset member.”
— Yousef Jabareen, Israeli Knesset member
For the first time, the Knesset Ethics Committee has decided to bar an MK [Member of the Knesset] from traveling abroad on a trip subsidized by an organization that supports a boycott of Israel.
Knesset member Yousef Jabareen of the predominantly Arab Joint List party was informed on Tuesday by committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) that the committee had decided to refuse his request to fly abroad for a series of lectures in April to be funded by Jewish Voice for Peace. The group appears on a Strategic Affairs Ministry list of groups supporting BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
“The aim is to portray institutional racism in Israel as entirely normal, and make sure the apartheid reality here is irreversible. . . . It is part of the right’s magical thinking — they are in denial that there is an indigenous people here still living in their homeland. We are not about to disappear because of this law.” — Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament
New legislation to cement the definition of Israel as a state belonging exclusively to Jews around the world is a “declaration of war” on Palestinian citizens of Israel, the minority’s leaders warned this week.
The bill, which defines Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people,” passed its first vote in the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, after it received unanimous backing from a government committee on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to get the measure on to the statute books within 60 days.
Among its provisions, the legislation — popularly known as the Jewish Nation-State Bill — revokes the status of Arabic as an official language, even though it is the mother tongue of one in five citizens.
Israel’s population includes a large minority of 1.7 million Palestinians.
The legislation affirms that world Jewry has a “unique” right to national self-determination in Israel, and calls for the government to further strengthen ties to Jewish communities outside Israel.
It also increases the powers of so-called “admissions committees” that block Palestinian citizens from living in hundreds of communities that control most of Israel’s land.
“A healthy person — who loves those who love him and hates those who hate him — doesn’t turn the other cheek.” — Bezalel Smotrich
Bezalel Smotrich has backed segregated maternity wards separating Jewish and Arab mothers, called for government reprisal attacks on Palestinians and once organized a homophobic “Beast Parade” protest against Gay Pride. He is also a member of Israel’s Knesset, a confident polemicist and increasingly prominent political figurehead for the country’s ascendant far-right.
Like the far-right European and American politicians who have upended the political order further west, his stock in trade is drawing fringe beliefs into the political mainstream, shifting the centre of debate.
A commitment to defending settlements on Palestinian land, deemed illegal under international law, runs through his personal and political life. He was born in one, lives in one now and, in one of his most recent forays into controversy, he likened the evacuation of Amona, an outpost deemed illegal by Israel’s own courts, to “a brutal rape.”
He wants the Israeli military to be able to shoot to kill when children throw stones, flatly rejects a two-state solution and believes Jews have a divine right to all land that made up biblical Israel, he told Haaretz newspaper in a recent interview. “Looking after my people means that the whole land of Israel is mine, religiously, historically and also in practical terms,” he said. “I abort their [Palestinian] hopes of establishing a state.”
“Today, the Israeli Knesset shifted from a path to establish a Palestinian state to a path of extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria [as Israel calls the occupied Palestinian territories]. Let there be no doubt: the regulation bill is what will spearhead the extension of [Israeli] sovereignty.” — Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs
“[The legislation] has the objective of protecting illegal settlements built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. It is a very worrying initiative. I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider such a move, which would have far-reaching legal consequences across the occupied West Bank.” — Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process
Israel’s parliament has voted to retroactively legalize thousands of illegitimate settler homes in outposts built on private Palestinian land, in a highly controversial move described by critics as a “land grab.” The measure, which passed in a stormy Knesset session late on Monday, has been met with international condemnation, and has already strained relations within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing rightwing coalition.
It comes in sharp defiance of a call on Sunday by the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who urged Israel again to rein in the construction of settlements on West Bank land.
Israeli critics and Palestinians have described the legislation as a land grab that would further distance prospects for a two-state solution to end the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some high-profile political supporters, echoing that view, celebrated the vote by saying it opened the way to annexation of the West Bank and the end of any prospect of a Palestinian state.
According to estimates by opponents — including the prominent anti-occupation group Peace Now — the new law, if finally approved, would effectively annex 55 illegal outposts and approximately 4,000 housing units in settlements and illegal outposts.