Israel’s government proceeds with anti-democratic legislation targeting Arab citizens and civil society

Tuesday, 13 July, 2010 - 13:43
London, UK
Haaretz, Adalah, ACRI

Israel’s Knesset is due to break for its summer recess at the end of July and reconvene in October. Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a series of intimidatory bills for a first vote in the Knesset prior to the recess.

First, the Committee has approved a bill proposing that Members of Knesset who have been summonsed to an interrogation or trial for crimes whose sentence is more than 5 years will have their pensions revoked. No-one doubts that the proposed law is aimed at former Arab Member of Knesset and chair of the Balad party. Azmi Bishara fled Israel three years ago, reportedly in order to avoid interrogation on allegations of espionage. No formal charges were filed against him, and he denied the charges vigorously saying he had fled because he did not believe he could obtain a fair trial in Israel.

Second, a bill seeking to outlaw boycott activities against Israel and against Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has also been approved by the Committee for Legislation. It is scheduled to go to a preliminary vote by the Knesset on Wednesday 14 July.

Finally, the second in a series of bills proposed by right wing party ‘Israel Beiteinu’ (the first being a bill to revoke citizenship and social rights from people convicted of terrorism or espionage) has been approved by the Committee for Legislation. Popularly known as ‘the Loyalty-Citizenship bills,’ the series seeks to single out and discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel. The bill went through the Committee yesterday, after initially having been rejected in May.

It seeks to grant preference to candidates for employment in the Israeli civil service who have completed military or national service over those who ‘did not contribute their time to the state.’ If passed, it will discriminate clearly against Arab citizens of Israel, who are not required to and do not normally serve in the Israeli military. Minister of Welfare Yitzhak Herzog has submitted an appeal against the approval of the bill, which he describes as “racist.” The appeal will be discussed next week by the Knesset.

This is not the first time Minister Hertzog, the son of a former President of Israel, has opposed the anti-democratic thrust of much current legislation. In May he spoke out against a bill prohibiting the public commemoration of the Nakba: “because I believe that it could impair freedom of expression and freedom of protest and achieve the opposite goal – increasing alienation and strengthening extremists, who are on the margins of Arab society”.

According to a report recently submitted to the UN by Arab human rights group Adalah, the proportion of Arab citizens of Israel in the civil service and public sector is already very low. Although 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab, only 6.1 percent of civil servants are Arab citizens, and only 2 percent are Arab women, says the group.

Legislation in the Israeli Knesset

In Israel, a law may be proposed either by a government office (a governmental bill) or by an individual MK or group of MKs (a private bill). More than half the proposed laws in the Knesset are private bills.

A governmental bill must be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation before it can be officially tabled to the Knesset and registered as a bill. A private bill must in addition be approved by the Knesset Chair and his/her deputies before being tabled. The Knesset Chair may prevent the tabling of bills defined as racist, or as denying the nature of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Once tabled, a private bill must also be debated by the Knesset and its committees, and pass a preliminary vote, before going to relevant Knesset committees for preparation for its first, second and third readings, after which it passes into law.

Between the first and the second readings, all bills are scrutinized and discussed by Knesset committees and often undergo modifications. The second and third readings are usually held on the same day.

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