Right-wing lawmakers push bill to outlaw Arab umbrella committee

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech sponsors legislation, claiming panel’s members seek to undermine Jewish state; group chair says move aimed at delegitimizing Arab society

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Right-wing lawmakers have put forth a bill to outlaw a top panel of Arab community leaders that includes representatives of political parties, city mayors and major organizations.

The Knesset National Security Committee on Sunday discussed the legislation proposing to ban the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, and called for an investigation of its leaders on suspicion of supporting terror.

The bill is sponsored by far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech and Likud MK Amit Halevi. They accuse the High Follow-Up Committee of providing cover for activities by terror groups.

The High Follow-up Committee chair told the Haaretz newspaper on Monday that he believes the bill is aimed at delegitimizing the entire Arab community and reducing its political power.

The committee was set up in the early 1980s as an extra-parliamentary umbrella organization for the Arab community, and is currently led by former MK Mohammad Barakeh. Members includes representatives from Arab political parties and Arab nonprofits as well as mayors of Arab towns.

Explanatory notes to the bill claim that Barakeh and the committee “encouraged the disturbances that took place during Operation Guardian of the Walls and assist in the legal proceedings of the perpetrators of the disturbances. The state and the enforcement institutions must not put up with this activity, and it must be outlawed.”

Likud MK Amit Halevi at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A series of violent inter-communal disturbances, particularly in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, took place in the days following the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on May 10, 2021, an operation that dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls.

At the committee hearing on Sunday, Halevi claimed that Barakeh “doesn’t miss a single opportunity to undermine the State of Israel,” Haaretz reported.

Son Har-Melech, addressing Arab lawmakers who were at the meeting, said, ” You don’t aim to further the interests of your society, you aim that we [the Jewish state] won’t be here.”

Committee chair MK Zvika Fogel, also of Otzma Yehudit, called for the High Committee leaders to be investigated and said “their actions harm the State of Israel and its very existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”

MK Ahmad Tibi, of the Joint List party, struck a defiant tone, saying, “No meeting like this will scare the Arab community.”

Mohammad Barakeh attends a press conference at the protest tent of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

State Attorney’s Office representative Shimon Huja told lawmakers that it is not possible to just declare the committee illegal, and that the only lawful way to act along those lines is to open a formal criminal process against the committee’s members, Haaretz reported.

MK Waleed Alhwashla, of the Islamist Ra’am party, told the hearing that the legislation is “unnecessary” and that it would make “all the Arab mayors and members of Knesset” outlaws.

MK Aida Touma Sliman of Hadash-Ta’al said the proposal is “political persecution aimed at suppressing any possibility of the Arab population acting as a national group, with national rights.”

Barakeh told Haaretz in a statement that the bill’s purpose is “to reduce the scope of discourse and political action of Arab society by damaging its legitimacy among the public in general and the Arab public in particular.”

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