A senior minister from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Monday said Arab MKs reportedly seeking United Nations condemnation of Israel for passing the controversial nation-state law last month should be tried for treason, as the Arab lawmakers decried the report as “fake news.”
“In any other normal country there’s one word for that: treason. I expect the justice system to finally put them on trial for the most severe offense in the law book,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Army Radio in an interview. “I ask the attorney general to act toward this.”
On Sunday, Hadashot news reported that lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List, Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, and other senior Palestinian officials were attempting to convince the UN to advance a resolution next month at the UN General Assembly that likens the quasi-constitutional legislation — which enshrines Israel’s status as a Jewish state — to apartheid.
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant also condemned the Arab MKs, saying that “public servants in Israel’s Knesset acting against the State of Israel crosses a red line. It is time for the justice system to enable the outlawing and booting from the Knesset of those dangerous extremists.”
Israeli diplomats reportedly discovered that several Arab Knesset members, including lawmakers Aida Touma-Sliman and Yousef Jabareen, met recently with senior UN officials, including UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, to discuss the nation-state law. They are seeking to claim in a UN resolution that the legislation is reminiscent of apartheid laws, and hope to gain support for international condemnation of Israel, the report said.
The UN officials reportedly asked Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon for a response.
On Sunday evening, Danon reportedly wrote to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein informing him that Arab MKs were “working against the State of Israel” and “causing great damage.”
Danon condemned the Arab Israeli lawmakers for the initiative and accused them of cynically taking advantage of their positions as official representatives of the nation to harm Israel internationally.
MK Touma-Sliman on Monday denied she had contacted top UN officials to promote a condemnation of Israel, but said in light of the reactions, she will consider doing so.
“Danny Danon was surprised to discover we don’t hesitate to say it as it is: The nation-state law is an apartheid law,” she said in a statement. “Apparently he hasn’t been following Knesset discussions. We said out loud that the law is reminiscent of dark dictatorships, enshrining discrimination and racial separation, and that we would battle it in the Knesset, the High Court, the streets and before the international community.”
Her party member Dov Khenin slammed Levin’s comments, saying that “the attacks on my fellow Joint List members for their meetings around the world on the issue of the nation-state law is anti-democratic and hypocritical.”
Fellow Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi called the report “fake news” in a Hadashot interview, claiming that the party has no legal status in the UN but has a right and a “duty” to contact international bodies on the matter. He said Jewish lawmakers regularly approach bodies such as the US Congress on issues such as promoting settlement construction in the West Bank.
Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, called the minister’s comments “incitement.”
“Levin hasn’t learnt anything,” she said in a statement. “The word treason, which since Rabin’s murder sends chills up every Israeli’s spine, is being spewed for no reason, just because another minister feels like inciting. This is how you prepare the next death.”
The nation-state law, passed by the Knesset July 19, for the first time anchors 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, though it cryptically also says the status of Arabic remains untouched.
The law was forcefully condemned by Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up some 20 percent of the population, as well as the country’s Druze minority.
The government has argued the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already anchored in other semi-constitutional legislation.
But critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
The legislation was passed as one of the so-called Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.
Several 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” legislation, saying it anchored discrimination against minorities in Israeli law. 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.