At EU, Arab MKs lobby Brussels to join fight against nation-state law

Party leader Ayman Odeh urges European foreign policy chief Mogherini to condemn and call for the cancellation of controversial legislation

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Joint (Arab) List chairman MK Ayman Oudeh, left, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, September 4, 2019 (courtesy Joint List)
Joint (Arab) List chairman MK Ayman Oudeh, left, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, September 4, 2019 (courtesy Joint List)

A delegation of Arab Israeli lawmakers from the Joint List met on Tuesday with senior European Union officials in Brussels, forcefully denouncing Israel’s recently passed Jewish nation-state law and charging the Israeli government with systematic discrimination against the country’s non-Jewish minority.

At the European Council headquarters in Brussels, party chairman Ayman Odeh met with the union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, while five of his fellow lawmakers met with other top officials, including the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn.

At about the same time, Israel’s ambassador to the EU attended an event held by a pro-settlement advocacy group at the European Parliament focusing on Jewish-Arab coexistence in the West Bank.

“Our struggle against this law must be fought in all areas and takes place first and foremost in Israel, in cooperation between the Arab society and democratic Jewish forces,” Odeh said in a statement released after his meeting with Mogherini. “However, our partners in the international arena have a very important contribution [to make] in their support for our struggle against the nation-state law that was legislated by the extreme-right and racist government.”

Odeh requested that the EU condemn and call for the cancellation of the controversial law, which appears to demote Arabic from an official language to one with a “special status” and declares national rights in Israel to be “unique” to the Jewish people.

Arab Israelis and other non-Jewish minorities have vociferously protested the law, which they say turns them into second-class citizens. Many Jewish Israelis and some in the international community have also condemned the legislation.

Odeh said the meeting with Mogherini was an important milestone in what he called his party’s “joint Jewish-Arab effort” to have the law be rescinded.

“I presented to [Mogherini] the nation-state law, which in my eyes is an apartheid law, as it supports segregation as well as ethnic supremacy. We will never agree to being second-class citizens in our homeland.”

In the meeting with Mogherini, Odeh also lamented the “social and economic discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel,” the destruction of Bedouin buildings in the Negev, and “the incitement in the prime minister’s circles” against Arab Israelis.

MK Jamal Zahalka said he and his fellow lawmakers came to “Europe to create massive pressure to cancel the nation-state law.”

The meeting at the EU came weeks after Arab parliamentarians met with representatives at the United Nations over the law. That meeting drew widespread condemnation from other Knesset members, though some of the opposition was based on a false report that lawmakers were working with the Palestinians to push a UN resolution against the law.

The government sees the matter as an internal issue and has expressed dismay over attempts to involve the international community.

Odeh claimed that the government had pressured Mogherini to cancel the meeting but said she had insisted on having it.

MKs from the Joint (Arab) List and Luxembourg FM Jean Asselborn, September 2018 (courtesy Joint (Arab) List)

A spokesperson for the EU said that Odeh had requested the meeting with Mogherini months ago, adding that she regularly meets officials and legislators from partner countries, both from the government and opposition.

The spokesperson confirmed that the two discussed the nation-state law, as well as “EU-Israel relations, domestic developments in Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

Mogherini “took note” of Odeh’s views on the controversial legislation.

The EU has previously said that the law “is first and foremost a matter of how Israel chooses to define itself,” expressing “respect” for the internal Israeli debate on the matter.

“The EU values Israel’s commitment to the shared values of democracy and human rights, which have characterized our longstanding and fruitful relations, and would not want to see these values being put in question or even threatened,” a EU spokesperson said after the law was passed in July.

“Democracy and equality, including equal rights for minorities, are key tenets that define our societies. The respect for human rights and fundamental principles are and will remain a central part of the EU-Israel partnership. We will continue to monitor the implications of this law in practice.”

Pro-settlement meeting

As the Joint (Arab) List lawmakers were railing against Israel, a group called Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament hosted Israel’s ambassador to the EU Aharon Leshno-Ya’ar, Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan and several MEPs for a conference arguing that Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank coexist mostly peacefully.

EU-Israel ties have been frosty for several months, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having snubbed Mogherini in June, when she planned to see him in Jerusalem but he said he did not have time to meet her.

“We have an especially difficult struggle for justice and the truth vis-a-vis the European Union in Brussels,” he said Monday at a Jewish New Year’s toast at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Also Monday, Mogherini told a conference of EU ambassadors from across the world that “the two-state solution is getting dramatically out of reach.”

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