Adalah Representing MK Ahmad Tibi Petitions Supreme Court against the Knesset's Decision to Disqualify a Legislative Bill Prohibiting Nakba Denial

HCJ 5478/11 MK Ahmad Tibi v. The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin

(Haifa, Israel) Today, 21 July 2011, Adalah petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al), against the Speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin, for prohibiting the introduction of a bill by MK Tibi to amend the recently-enacted "Nakba Law" of March 2011. The bill proposed by MK Tibi provides that the Finance Minister may cut transfers from the state budget to bodies that engage in a "public denial of the Nakba as a historic event, which constitutes a real disaster of the Palestinian people, including the Arab minority in Israel". The Presidency of the Knesset, which includes the Chair of the Knesset and his deputies, disqualified the bill on the grounds that it negates the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. The petition was filed by Attorney Hassan Jabareen, Adalah's General Director.

The petition emphasized that the purpose of introducing the bill is to have a discussion about the Nakba and the Palestinian narrative, in order to convince even a small majority in the Knesset that the "Nakba Law" is an injustice to the Palestinian minority in Israel and that the denial of the history of Arab citizens is inconsistent with the principle of equal citizenship. The petition also argued that the debate about the history of Arab citizens in Israel is very legitimate and that actually denying the existence of such debates is itself a denial of the equal status of Arab citizens and violates their right to dignity.

The refusal to allow the introduction of the proposed amendment to the "Nakba Law" is the first case in the history of the Knesset to reject a bill based on Section 134 (c) of the Knesset regulations that allow the Presidency to disqualify a bill in advance for denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The petition argued that, "This section [of the Knesset regulations] is extremely problematic as it violates basic rights and especially the right to equality and freedom of expression of parliamentarians." The petition also stresses that "Indeed, MK Ahmad Tibi opposes the definition of the state as Jewish and he believes in 'state for all of its nationalities'. But the bill in question does not deal with this issue. It deals with the historical narrative of the Arab minority in Israel. Historical narrative is one thing and the state's constitutional character, another matter." Accordingly, the decision to reject the bill is a radical deviation of the Knesset's presidential power.

Attorney Jabareen stated that the Presidency's decision seriously affects the rights of the minority members in the parliament, the parliamentary freedom of expression and equality among members of the Knesset. "The discussion about the Nakba took place in the context of the 'Nakba Law'. In this debate, there were those who favor and those who oppose it. MK Tibi wants to challenge the 'Nakba Law', one paragraph of the law that he refers to a racist paragraph."

Attorney Jabareen added that, "Many indigenous peoples throughout the world related to the establishment process of new countries as a historical injustice, a historic catastrophe. But after a stubborn and persistent struggle of the indigenous peoples, these countries, after such a long time, recognized the wrong done to them. This recognition formed the basis of historical reconciliation. The United States, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are prime examples these processes."

With the filing of the petition, MK Ahmad Tibi noted: "I'm aware that there is no chance that the bill [would be accepted] if brought to a vote before the Knesset's plenum, but part of my elected official duties is always to raise the issue of the Nakba and the historical narrative of the Arabs in Israel. And so, that challenge to the dominant discourse of the majority in Israel, even when it today denies the narrative of the Nakba, is a necessary condition in the historical process we are striving to promote, that is, official recognition of that the narrative in the future, and the historic reconciliation between the two peoples." Case Citation: HCJ 5478/11, MK Ahmad Tibi v. The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin (case pending)

The Petition (Hebrew)

Case citation: HCJ 5478/11 MK Ahmad Tibi v. The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin