Arab Israelis oppose a Knesset bill that would anchor in law Israel’s status as a Jewish state and that Arabic is not an official language, seeing it as an anti-Arab move that violates democratic values.
Arabs oppose the legislation because it “is exclusive – reiterating the status of Israel as a state for its Jewish citizens,” Amal Jamal, head of the International MA Program in Political Science and Political Communication at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday.
Jamal, who is also the head of the NGO I’lam – Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, argues that the proposal raises a democratic issue – “the question of who is the sovereign of the state – all Jewish people, or the citizens that live here, which includes non-Jews.”
The bill would remove the sovereignty from the citizens, and shift it to all Jews, many of whom are not citizens of Israel, he said.
It “empties citizenship of meaning because it becomes exclusive” to one ethnic group, added Jamal.
Such a law would give the majority a privilege that is not “part of the democratic game,” he said.
By formulating the legislation this way, “you are actually constitutionalizing a rule,” which then removes it from public debate, he said.
If Israel wants to be like a Western democracy, it should not pass such a law binding an ethnic group to the state, Jamal said.
Atta Farhat, the head of the Druse Zionist Council for Israel, told the Post that since this summer’s Gaza war, Muslims have been inciting against the Druse all over the country because they support the state and serve in the army.
“This is the Jewish state – how it was 3,000 years ago, and it will continue to be that way,” Farhat said.
The only thing we have in common with the Arabs is language, he said. “We are not Palestinians and do not have religious or cultural connections with them, but are full Israeli citizens.”
This bill comes too late, “it should have been made in 1948,” when the state was established Farhat said.
“I want the state to be a Jewish state and not one of ‘all its citizens,’” since “Jews respect others and their way of life,” he said.
“We see what is happening in Iraq, Egypt, and other Arab countries.
We don’t want to live under a government of darkness, but where we have freedom,” he said.
Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer and director of the social and economic rights unit at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told the Post the main problem with the proposal is that by giving Jews primacy in the state, it ends up being “just another step” in “ruining the status of Palestinian Arabs in Israel – making them inferior.”
In fact, argued Zaher, the legal system already “anchors the Jewish nature of the state.”
For example, the Law of Return allows for the free immigration of Jews, but does not permit Arabs to reunite with their families who live in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or elsewhere, she said.
Equality for all citizens means that you do not give the priority to Jews, she said.
The timing of this proposal soon after the Gaza war this past summer and the recent protests in the Arab sector, “is telling Arabs that they are inferior and will never be equal citizens in their own country,” Zaher said.
Regarding the effort to legislate that Arabic is not an official language and to give it a different special status, Zaher said it is already not treated as an official language.
In an interview with the Post last year, Dr. Aviad Bakshi, an academic and the director of legal affairs at the Kohelet Policy Forum, argued that Arabic is not an official language in practice, and that subsequent laws had negated the language’s legal standing, which comes from law established during the British Mandate era.
Asked how Adalah would react if the proposal becomes law, Zaher said it would have to discuss the issue before talking about petitioning the the High Court of Justice.
Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told the Post in an interview on Sunday that Israel still “does not know who a Jew is, so they should first decide on that before looking to make Arabs the enemy and hurt their rights.”
I hope that those who are behind this bill “remember that there are still Jews living as a minority in other countries,” he said.
Whether this proposal will pass or not is not the issue, said Farah, it is that our citizenship is constantly being tested.
“We are sick of this, it is not political, it is racist,” Farah said.
This is just an effort by those behind the law “to complicate the situation of our community, this is their agenda, instead of dealing with helping,” such as dealing with unemployment or economic issues.