'Rivlin must explain rejection of Tibi Nakba bill'

High Court puts off final ruling, but demands a full explanation from Knesset Speaker on why he would not allow MK to propose bill.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Channel)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Channel)
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.”
Rivlin 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 issues.
The hearing stems from a petition submitted on Tibi’s behalf by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel in July 2011.
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.”
The 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.
In preventing 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 procedure.
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 reason.
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.
He said 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 exceptional case.
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 Australia, respectively.
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 democratic nature.
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.