Bedouin petition High Court claiming Jewish nation-state law is illegal

Joining the Druze and other minorities, petitioners demand the controversial legislation be annulled or changed to apply equally to all Israeli citizens

Illustrative: Bedouin IDF soldiers in a tent they set up in a field near the Gaza border in southern Israel, on July 6, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Bedouin IDF soldiers in a tent they set up in a field near the Gaza border in southern Israel, on July 6, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two members of Israel’s Bedouin minority community, who served as officers in the IDF, filed a High Court of Justice petition Sunday against the controversial Jewish nation-state law.

In their petition, Hasan Heeb and Yaqob abu al Elkien demanded that the law be abolished or changed to make it apply equally to all Israeli citizens.

The petition comes amid widespread outrage among the Druze community against the law. Members of the Druze community — including three Druze members of Knesset — have already filed High Court petitions against the law and some 50-100,000 people attended a protest Saturday in Tel Aviv.

The law, which says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” has been criticized as discriminating against minority groups and has provoked outrage. The government denies this.

Attorney Mohamed Rahel, acting on behalf of the petitioners, wrote that the law contradicts Israel’s already established legislation on basic rights, Hadashot TV news reported.

“We maintain that this law is an illegal law and it should be annulled immediately because it completely contradicts the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and the Declaration of Independence,” he wrote.

Rahel quoted from the Old Testament verses instructing the acceptance of minorities, including a passage from Leviticus 19:33 which reads, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, do not mistreat him.”

“Unfortunately, this law destroys all the good and impacts all the beautiful values which were drawn from Judaism, from the tradition and heritage of the Jewish people that was in exile for thousands of years until the establishment of state,” Rahel wrote.

Tens of thousands participate in a Druze-led protest in Tel Aviv against the Jewish nation-state law, on August 4, 2018. (Adam Rasgon/ Times of Israel staff)

On Sunday, Netanyahu defended the law as “vital” for ensuring that “Israel will remain the Jewish nation-state for generations to come.”

Netanyahu’s comments at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem came after days of protest from the Druze minority and others following the law’s passage on July 19. Members of Israel’s Druze community serve in the Israeli army and have expressed particular dismay at the law’s provisions, saying it renders them second-class citizens. Many Bedouin also serve in the IDF.

More than 50,000 Israelis, waving Israeli and Druze flags and calling for equality, gathered at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to demonstrate against the controversial law. Leaders of the Druze community were among the key organizers of the demonstration.

Beyond angering the Druze, the law has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s other minorities and opposition parties, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

The legislation, proponents say, 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’s passage made it one of Israel’s Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Unlike Arab Israelis, members of both the Druze and Circassian minorities are subject to Israel’s mandatory draft and serve in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF’s most elite units. Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger at the new law with a package of benefits.

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