Israeli Arab leaders petition High Court against ‘racist’ nation-state law
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Israeli Arab leaders petition High Court against ‘racist’ nation-state law

Latest judicial appeal alleges controversial legislation reeks of colonialism, is inconsistent with international norms and 'massively harms human rights'

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: The High Court of Justice in session. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: The High Court of Justice in session. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli Arab leaders on Tuesday filed a petition to the High Court of Justice against the controversial nation-state law, in the fourth such petition to the court since the law was passed on July 19.

The petitioners run the gamut of Arab Israeli representative groups, including the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the umbrella body of Arab Israeli organizations; lawmakers of the Joint List in the Knesset; and the committee of Arab council heads and mayors.

Filed by legal rights group Adalah, the petition said the law passed by the Knesset last month is “racist, massively harmful to fundamental human rights and contravenes international human rights norms, especially those forbidding laws that constitute a racist constitution,” according to a statement.

Petitioners said the legislation reeked of colonialism because it was “based on the principle of ethnic superiority [and] imposed a constitutional identity on all groups.”

The petition also claimed the law explicitly rejects Palestinian national rights, which, when applied to areas claimed by Israel beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, constitutes a violation of the laws of occupation contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“Any law that denies Palestinians their civil and national rights is racist, colonialist and illegitimate,” it said.

Arab citizens account for some 21 percent of Israel’s more than 8.8 million population; they have equal voting rights, freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly, but many have long complained of discrimination.

Protesters wave Israeli and Druze flags at a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law, on August 4, 2018. (Luke Tress / Times of Israel staff)

The nation-state law passed by the Knesset July 19 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.” 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.

The Netanyahu government says the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already anchored in existing legislation.

But critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens outlined in the constitution. It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

At least 50,000 Israelis attended a Druze-led demonstration against the law in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night.

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

Since it was passed, three 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” law. In an appeal filed days after the law was passed, the Druze community said the legislation anchored discrimination against minorities in Israeli law.

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)

“For the Druze public, which gives of its blood and its sons for the State of Israel, the nation-state law is spitting in our face,” the petitioners said.

Last week, the left-wing Meretz party petitioned the court against the law, claiming it violated a basic law passed in 1992 that guarantees “human dignity” for all citizens of Israel.

On Sunday, 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to placate the Druze with a package of benefits, but efforts to negotiate it have stalled.

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