Knesset votes down opposition call to add ‘equality’ to nation-state law

Knesset votes down opposition call to add ‘equality’ to nation-state law

Gantz absent from vote as Blue and White criticizes amendment, saying it supports – and is preparing – standalone legislation to ensure equality

Then-Blue and White MK Gadeer Mreeh (left) in the Knesset on May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Then-Blue and White MK Gadeer Mreeh (left) in the Knesset on May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

An amendment that would add equality for minorities to a controversial law defining Israel’s Jewish character was voted down in the Knesset on Wednesday, with opponents calling it political posturing.

MK Gadeer Mreeh, a Druze lawmaker who switched in May from Benny Gantz’s Blue and White faction to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party after Gantz joined the unity government, proposed the bill, which would have added a “right to equality” for minorities to the Basic Law: Israel as a Nation State of the Jewish People, upgraded the status of the Arabic language, and required equal development spending for all communities.

While large swaths of the Knesset have supported such a measure in the past — it was one of Gantz’s chief campaign promises during the three elections cycles of the past 18 months — the bill garnered just 21 votes, most of them from Mreeh’s Yesh Atid-Telem faction.

The coalition parties voted against, and Blue and White was largely absent from the plenum, including Gantz himself.

Yesh Atid criticized Gantz’s absence, with one adviser to party leader Yair Lapid accusing him of “zero leadership and zero principles.”

“Israel is turning from a democratic state to a nationalistic one,” Mreeh charged in her statement in support of the bill in the Knesset plenum. She quoted Ze’ev Jabotinsky and former prime minister Menachem Begin, two iconic figures of the Israeli right, who insisted Israel must have equality for all its citizens, and insisted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was living in an “ivory tower” and did not grasp the pain the 2018 law had caused to Israel’s minorities.

“Instead of sitting in your ivory tower, go out and listen to the frustration and the anger. Listen to what it’s doing to the 18-year-olds [in the Druze community] that are just before their IDF draft. But of course, you’re too busy with your own problems, why bother you with such trifles?”

The Knesset during a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Mreeh left Blue and White when she was informed that Gantz would not demand an amendment to the nation-state law as part of his coalition agreement with Likud.

The vote divided the center and left parties.

Shortly after the vote, Blue and White issued a statement criticizing the bill.

“We oppose the bill that was brought to the plenum today,” the statement said. “The members of Yesh Atid, like us, have insisted until this week that the right way to correct the problems with the nation-state law is through a separate Basic Law that ensures the principle of equality. Justice Minister [Avi] Nissenkorn has been working to draft such a bill for several weeks now, and together with top legal experts and additional MKs from the [Blue and White] faction is developing a solution to this important issue.”

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz seen with Members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh HaAyin, during a protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State law’, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Labor MK Merav Michaeli, meanwhile, criticized her party colleagues Economy Minister Amir Peretz and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli for failing to support Mreeh’s bill.

“I’m happy for the privilege of representing the real Labor Party and voting just now for MK Gadeer Mreeh’s bill to add an equality clause to the racist nation-state law. I’m saddened by the fact that my fellow party members avoided a vote on something they promised to do themselves,” she wrote on Twitter.

The nation-state law passed in 2018 defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Its present form was opposed by Israel’s Druze minority, many of whose leaders led protests against the law and insisted it effectively defined them as “second-class citizens.”

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