The High Court of Justice on Wednesday issued an interim order demanding that
Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin justify why he would not allow MK Ahmed Tibi
(United Arab List-Ta’al) to propose a bill to the Knesset relating to the
“Nakba,” or “catastrophe.”
Many Palestinians use this term in referring
to the events of the founding of the State of Israel and Tibi’s bill would have
prohibited state funding to organizations that “deny the Nakba.”
has until July 31 to respond to the court order.
The standard panel of
three justices also referred the issue for a final ruling to an enlarged panel
of seven justices, reserved for the most important constitutional
The hearing stems from a petition submitted on Tibi’s behalf by
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel in July
Tibi’s bill proposed empowering the finance minister to cut state
funding to organizations that “deny publicly that Nakba Day was a historical,
real event that constitutes a disaster for the Palestinian people.”
bill was a response to Yisrael Beytenu’s “Nakba Bill,” which called to cut state
funding to organizations that recognize the Nakba.
Tibi dubbed Rivlin’s
act of not allowing his bill to be put before the Knesset for a vote, as “a dark
day for democracy.”
The High Court petition claimed Tibi presented the
bill to open a Knesset discussion about the Nakba, in order that he might
convince MKs that Yisrael Beytenu’s Nakba Bill was “an injustice to the
Palestinian minority in Israel.”
The petition also argued Yisrael
Beytenu’s legislation denied Arab citizens their history, which it claimed was
inconsistent with the principle of equal citizenship.
Tibi’s bill from being presented to the Knesset for a discussion and vote,
Rivlin explained that he had the power to deny any audience for it because it
rejected the State of Israel as a Jewish state.
Rivlin had argued that
the bill clearly provokes the State of Israel, and therefore, did not belong on
the Knesset’s agenda.
He said that Tibi’s bill said the State of Israel
was the reason for the Palestinian tragedy. He reasoned that if one said that
the Nakba was a tragedy, then the establishment of the state would also be
viewed as a tragedy. In contrast, he argued that the Palestinians experienced a
catastrophe that was brought on by their leaders, but that the establishment of
the State of Israel is not the reason for it.
In oral arguments before
the court, Adalah and Tibi’s attorney, Hassan Jabareen, argued that the central
issues were not about dismantling the State of Israel but about having a debate
about the state’s values. He noted that the Knesset has the power to change what
are considered the central values of the state.
Moreover, Jabareen said
that the High Court always has the power of judicial review, including over what
could be considered the state’s values. He added that because of this authority
of judicial review, particularly with such a basic right at stake as the mere
presenting of a bill to the Knesset, that the court need not be distracted by
the technical question of interfering in the Knesset’s inner-workings and
Jabareen said that disallowing Tibi from presenting a bill was
all the more problematic in light of the fact that his bill was primarily a
response to similar legislation from the opposite perspective that had been
brought to the Knesset.
Previously, in the petition, Tibi had also
criticized the decision of the Knesset speaker to reject his bill on the grounds
that it denied Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. That was the first time
in the state’s history that a bill proposed by an Arab MK was rejected for this
The petition had noted that Tibi was opposed to the definition of
the state as a Jewish state, and that he espoused the idea of a multinational
state. Yet, simultaneously the petition stated that the bill in question did not
concern itself with this issue, but only with the historical narrative of the
Arab minority in Israel.
The attorney for Rivlin, Eyal Yinon, said in
oral argument that in the past 27 years, Knesset speakers have prevented only 12
bills from coming before the Knesset out of 4,400 proposed laws.
that the right to prevent laws from coming before the Knesset should be and has
been rarely used, but that Tibi’s proposed law fit the bill as such an
At the time of the filing of the petition, Jabareen
said the Knesset’s rejection of hearing the bill severely affects the rights of
the parliamentary minority, including parliamentary freedom of expression and
equality between MKs.
After filing the petition, Tibi acknowledged that
even if Rivlin had not withheld the bill from being presented to the Knesset, it
would not have stood a chance of approval. But Tibi argued that part of his role
as a public official was to raise the issue of the Nakba and the historical
narrative of those who elected him. He added that challenging the dominant
discourse of the majority in Israel would eventually promote historic
reconciliation between the two peoples.
Tibi compared his efforts to have
the Nakba officially recognized to those of Native Americans and Australian
Aborigines to have their rights recognized after the foundings of the US and
MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu), who proposed
the original “Nakba Bill,” forbidding state funding of Nakba Day events, had
previously criticized Tibi’s legislation as being another example of a member of
Israel’s parliament seeking to cancel the State of Israel’s Jewish and
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.