Arab MK predicts more resignations over nation-state law

After Zouheir Bahloul quits, Issawi Frej of Meretz says legislation enshrining Israel as the Jewish state is a ‘stab in the back’ for the country’s Arab population

Meretz MK Issawi Frej, left, speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Issawi Frej, left, speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Arab lawmaker on Sunday predicted that other Arab MKs are likely to resign in protest from the Knesset over the recently passed Jewish nation-state law, a day after Zionist Union lawmaker Zouheir Bahloul announced he was quitting because of the legislation, passed earlier this month.

MK Issawi Frej, from the opposition Meretz party, said he was not surprised that Bahloul had decided to resign over the law, which critics say is discriminatory toward Israel’s non-Jewish minorities.

“He is not the last Arab who will leave the Knesset because of the nation-state law, I have no doubt about that,” Frej told Israel Radio.

Bahloul, a popular former sports commentator, announced his resignation during an interview on Hadashot TV news on Saturday.

Despite having voted against the law with the rest of his opposition faction, he said he was uncomfortable remaining in the Knesset given that the legislation “makes the Arab population officially, constitutionally outside the realms of equality in Israel.”

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.

Frej said that aside from the controversial law, Bahloul had also not been comfortable with his membership in the Labor Party, which together with the Hatnua party forms the Zionist Union parliament faction.

“The Labor party was always the party for ‘the good Arabs,'” Frej said, using an expression that has connotations of subservience to the Jewish majority in the country. “They didn’t back him, they didn’t support him.”

Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul, December 5, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Including Bahloul, whose resignation will not take effect until the Knesset reconvenes in the fall, there are currently 18 Arab members of Knesset, most of them in the Joint List. Three are members of coalition parties.

Frej said the law was a “stab in the back” for all the country’s Arabs, who want to be part of society.

“People say … that we are guests. I expect there to be further dramatic developments,” he said.

Last week, 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with leaders of the Druze community Friday but did not commit to changing the law.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have both said the law needs alterations.

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 law, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing.

When passed on July 19, the law became a Basic Law, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

It 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.”

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