Arab Israeli leader says Abbas will help fight nation-state law

Former lawmaker Mohammad Barakeh says he will turn to UN, EU to battle legislation critics slam as discriminatory

Mohammad Barakeh in 2011, when he was a member of Knesset for the Hadash party. (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)
Mohammad Barakeh in 2011, when he was a member of Knesset for the Hadash party. (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

An Arab Israeli leader said Saturday that he had enlisted the assistance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the battle against the recently passed nation-state law, which has been criticized as discriminatory against Israel’s Arab minority.

“We are embarking on an international effort and will turn to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the European Union in Brussels and the UN in New York,” said Mohammad Barakeh, a longtime leader of the left-wing Hadash party who currently heads the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel.

“This morning I met with [Abbas], who will lend assistance to promoting this issue in any arena,” he added, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

MK Juma Azbarga of the Joint (Arab) List, meanwhile, was quoted as saying the Arab Israeli lawmakers should resign from the Knesset en masse in protest of the law. His comments came as one MK announced he was stepping down over the legislation.

Proponents of the nation-state law, which was passed earlier this month, say it puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.

The law became a Basic Law, one of several that, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance, and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Arab Israel lawmaker from the Zionist Union party Zouheir Bahloul announces his resignation from the Knesset on July 28, 2018 to protest the nation-state bill (Screenshot/Hadashot news)

On Saturday, Arab Israeli MK Zouheir Bahloul of the Zionist Union faction announced that he would be resigning from the Knesset in protest.

“When the Knesset recess is over my resignation will go into effect, I promise you I will not sit in this Knesset again,”  he told Hadashot TV news.

Asked if his resignation was not too drastic, Bahloul, a former popular sports commentator, said that “the drastic act was the legislation of the nation-state law that makes the Arab population officially, constitutionally outside the realms of equality in Israel.”

Bahloul said the Knesset had recently passed a raft of laws he called “racist and extreme.”

“I can’t sit on the fence, I will need to give an answer to my grandchildren who will ask me what I did and say, ‘I resigned because of this harsh law that should have brought all the Israelis out onto the barricades and we wonder why they have not.'”

Outgoing Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog paid tribute to Bahloul, saying that “the voices of the minorities in Israel have to be heard.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with Sheikh Muafak Tariff, spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze community, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (L) and other Druze leaders at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The nation-state bill — which for the first time, enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities, the international community and Jewish groups abroad.

On Sunday, Israeli Druze leaders, including three Knesset members, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Jewish nation-state legislation, saying it was an “extreme” act that discriminated against the country’s minorities.

Israeli ministers have moved to reassure the Druze community that they are valued in Israeli society and have proposed a raft of measures to placate them. Still hundreds of members of the community protested Saturday night in Tel Aviv in demand that the legislation be repealed.

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