Photo Credit: Eman via Wikimedia
MK Jamal Zahalka

In an unusual move, the Knesset Presidium decided on Monday to adopt the opinion of the Knesset’s legal advisor and disqualify a bill submitted by Balad, a faction of the Joint Arab List, calling for Israel to be defined as a state of all its citizens, rather than a Jewish State. The bill will not be allowed to be placed on the Knesset agenda.

The Knesset Presidium includes the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, who approve the tabling of private Members’ bills and the urgency of motions for the House agenda.

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The decision to ban a Knesset debate on the proposed “Basic Law: A Country of All Its Citizens” was adopted by a vote of 7-2. MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) and Esawi Frej (Meretz) voted against the decision, while MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) abstained.

MK Smotrich objected to the Presidium’s presumption of power to bar legislation from being tabled for consideration by the Knesset, which he said is anti-democratic.

This is the first time a proposed legislation has been disqualified before being discussed in the plenum over the past two Knesset terms.

The bill was authored by Joint Arab List MKs Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi and Joumah Azbarga. Attorney Eyal Yinon, the Knesset’s legal Adviser, submitted to the Presidium an opinion saying that “both in the theoretical plane and in the specific one, it is hard to not see such a proposal as one that seeks to deny Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, and therefore, and in accordance with Article 75(e) of the regulations, the Knesset Presidium is qualified to prevent its submission.”

At the opening of the meeting, Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said, “This is a preposterous bill that any intelligent individual can see must be blocked immediately. A bill that aims to gnaw at the foundations of the state must not be allowed in the Knesset. This is the first time since my appointment as Knesset speaker five years ago, that I am recommending that the presidium disqualify a bill. The three MKs from Balad keep trying to garner votes through provocation, and we cannot lend a hand to this.”

MK Frej said, “The Jewish majority challenges the Arab minority on many counts, and an example of this is the Nationality Law. Why are those who proposed the Nationality Law allowed [to place their bill on the Knesset table], while MK Zahalka isn’t?”

MK Tibi argued that “the minority also has a right to defy and protest the consensus, such as the abundance of rights the Jewish majority in Israel has, a situation which reinforces the [inferior status] of the Arab minority.”

MK Smotrich said ”I agree with every word the Knesset Speaker said. Indeed, this is an unrealistic bill. However, an order that a bill not be placed on the Knesset agenda should be anchored in law, not in the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure.”

MK Revital Swid (Zionist Camp) said, ”Placing this bill on the Knesset’s agenda may set a precedent for placing other inherently racist bills on the Knesset table. Since this bill negates Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish nation and negates the Right of Return, we cannot allow it to be placed on the Knesset agenda.”

In his opinion, Yinon wrote, ”The bill proposing ‘Basic Law: A country of all its citizens’ includes a list of sections intended to change the State of Israel’s character from the Jewish people’s nation state to a state in which both the Jewish and Arab nations are equal in terms of nationality.”

Yinon also noted that the bill included sections which would change various”integral” laws, including canceling the Right of Return, which allows any Jew to become an Israeli citizen. It would also include a section to remove Hebrew as Israel’s main language, and negate the principle which basis most of Israel’s symbols on the Jewish nation’s rebirth.

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