Arab Israeli MKs said set to appeal to EU to oppose Jewish nation-state law

Joint List party leader reportedly heading to Brussels, urging support for planned UN resolution that will compare the law to apartheid

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh (L) attends a protest against the nation-state law in Tel-Aviv on July 30, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh (L) attends a protest against the nation-state law in Tel-Aviv on July 30, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Arab Israeli lawmakers are set to hold a series of meetings with senior European Union officials to urge them to oppose the controversial nation-state law passed last month, Hadashot news reported Friday.

The report came after Hadashot reported earlier this week that the lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List had joined forces with the Palestinians in an attempt to convince the UN to advance a resolution next month at the UN General Assembly that likens the quasi-constitutional legislation — which enshrines Israel’s status as a Jewish state — to apartheid.

That report, which was denied by all parties ostensibly involved, drew widespread condemnation in Israel, with one minister calling for the MKs involved to be tried for treason.

According to the TV report Friday, Joint Party leader Ayman Odeh and several party members are to travel to Brussels next week, where Odeh and others will meet with a series of top European leaders including foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, various foreign ministers and ambassadors.

European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini delivers her opening address during the ASEAN-European Union Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, August 3, 2018. (Yong Teck Lim/AP)

Odeh will reportedly urge the EU to support the planned UN resolution and to pressure Israel to repeal the law.

The report said Odeh also plans to approach the UN cultural body UNESCO to protest the law’s apparent downgrading of Arabic as an official language in Israel.

There was no immediate confirmation or comment from Odeh.

News of the rumored UN resolution sparked outrage in Israel earlier this week.

“In any other normal country there’s one word for that: Treason. I expect the justice system to finally put them on trial for the most severe offense in the law-book,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Army Radio in an interview on Monday. “I ask the attorney general to act toward this.”

Construction Minister Yoav Gallant also condemned the Arab MKs, saying that “public servants in Israel’s Knesset acting against the State of Israel crosses a red line. It is time for the justice system to enable the outlawing and booting from the Knesset of those dangerous extremists.”

Israeli diplomats reportedly discovered that several Arab Knesset members, including lawmakers Aida Touma-Sliman and Yousef Jabareen, met recently with senior UN officials, including UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, to discuss the nation-state law.

They report charged they were seeking to claim in a UN resolution that the legislation is reminiscent of apartheid laws, and hope to gain support for international condemnation of Israel.

But both DiCarlo and Touma-Sliman denied any anti-Israel resolution was discussed.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks to reporters ahead of a Security Council meeting on May 30, 2018. (Courtesy)

The UN officials reportedly asked Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon for a response.

On Sunday evening, Danon reportedly wrote to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein informing him that Arab MKs were “working against the State of Israel” and “causing great damage.”

Danon condemned the Arab Israeli lawmakers for the initiative and accused them of cynically taking advantage of their positions as official representatives of the nation to harm Israel internationally.

MK Touma-Sliman on Monday denied she had contacted top UN officials to promote a condemnation of Israel, but said in light of the reactions, she will consider doing so.

Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman in the Knesset, June 3, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Danny Danon was surprised to discover we don’t hesitate to say it as it is: The nation-state law is an apartheid law,” she said in a statement. “Apparently he hasn’t been following Knesset discussions. We said out loud that the law is reminiscent of dark dictatorships, enshrining discrimination and racial separation, and that we would battle it in the Knesset, the High Court, the streets and before the international community.”

Her party member Dov Khenin slammed Levin’s comments, saying that “the attacks on my fellow Joint List members for their meetings around the world on the issue of the nation-state law is anti-democratic and hypocritical.”

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The nation-state law, passed by the Knesset July 19, for the first time anchors 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.” It also defines Arabic as a language bearing a “special” status, effectively downgrading it from its de facto status as Israel’s second official language, though it cryptically also says the status of Arabic remains untouched.

The law was forcefully condemned by Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up some 20 percent of the population, as well as the country’s Druze minority.

The government has argued the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already anchored in other semi-constitutional legislation.

But critics both at home and abroad say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

The legislation was passed as one of the so-called Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Several petitions against the law have been filed to the High Court, demanding it be overturned on constitutional grounds. Druze leaders, including three MKs, were first to demand the High Court strike down the “extremist” legislation, saying it anchored discrimination against minorities in Israeli law. Two Bedouin former IDF officers also called on the High Court to either change the formulation of the law so it applies equally to all Israelis or abolish it completely.

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