Legal Advisors Tell Knesset to Disqualify "Arab Equality" Bill


Two legal advisors to the Knesset have recommended the immediate disqualification of a bill, initiated by MK Mohammed Baraka (Jebha/Hadash), which would guarantee equal rights for Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  The two advisors have argued that the proposed legislation’s reference to Israel as "a democratic and multi-cultural state" denies Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, thus violating the Basic Law: The Knesset. 


The bill, entitled "The Basic Law on the Equality of the Arab Population," primarily articulates the idea that the rights of the Arab citizens of Israel be "founded on the recognition of the principle of equality."  However, the bill’s second, and problematic, clause states that the "aim" of the bill is to "anchor in basic law the values of the state of Israel as a democratic and multi-cultural state." 


This action reflects the tension between Israel’s ostensibly democratic government and its claim to be the state of the Jewish people.  In assigning an ethnic character to the state and its institutions, Israel also assigns first class citizenship to its Jewish population, thus reducing the civil and political rights of its Palestinian Arab citizens.  This is not only incompatible with modern democracy, but also illegal under international human rights treaties to which Israel is a signatory. 


Hassan Jabareen, General Director of Adalah, wrote to MK Abraham Burg, Chairman of the Knesset, on November 4, 1999, in an attempt to stop the disqualification of the bill, and to demonstrate the illegality of such an action.  Among the points raised by Mr. Jabareen’s letter is the fact that MK Yossi Beilin previously introduced a bill in the Knesset which is similar to Mr. Baraka’s proposed legislation.  At the time of this introduction, there was no parallel attack on Mr. Beilin’s bill, thus demonstrating that a major impetus behind disqualifying Mr. Baraka’s proposed bill is not its ideology but the identity of its initiator. 


Mr. Jabareen also points out in his letter that the principles embodied by Baraka’s proposal are no different than those articulated in the platform of his party, Jebha/Hadash, or other Arab parties.  Given that these parties continue to participate in Israel’s highest legislative body, logic dictates that their platforms are not illegal.  With this in mind, Baraka’s bill is no more worthy of disqualification than the parties to which he and the other Arab MKs belong. 


Today, Israel has no constitution or bill of rights.  Although laws exist which protect the equal rights of disadvantaged groups such as women and the disabled, no general statute relates to the right to equality for all citizens.  Moreover, there is no statute that specifically protects equal rights for the Arab minority in Israel.  As Adalah demonstrated in its report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in March 1998 ("Legal Violations of Arab Minority Rights in Israel"), in cases involving equal rights for Arab citizens, Israel’s Supreme Court actually considers the differences between Arabs and Jews to be relevant factors in justifying privileges granted to only Israeli Jews. 


In light of these facts, it is clear that Baraka’s bill is long overdue.  Equality for all the citizens of the state, whether Arab or Jewish, is a moral imperative if Israel wishes to add real substance its label as the "only democratic state in the Middle East." 


See also Ha’aretz English Edition, Novemeber 4, 1999