If passed, the bills will have a profound impact on Palestinians’ rights. The laws are carefully worded to avoid the appearance of singling out Palestinian Arab citizens, but their application is deliberately targeted and potent. For example, the “Increased Governance and Raising the Qualifying Election Threshold Bill” (from 2 percent to 4 percent) will severely harm the ability of the three small Arab parties in Israel to be elected to the Knesset. The “Contributors to the State Bill” will legalize discrimination in hiring, salaries and social benefits in favor of military service graduates, thereby excluding the vast majority of Arab citizens who do not serve in the army for historical and political reasons. More severely, the “Prawer-Begin Law” will oversee the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Bedouin citizens in the Naqab (Negev) and the dispossession of 800,000 dunams of their land for exclusive Israeli Jewish development.
The bills demonstrate the increasingly anti-democratic trend of Israel’s legislative body despite its changed composition following the elections in February 2013, and the ease with which it is able to introduce such bills without significant political opposition. The previous 18th Knesset (2009-2012) was consistently described as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, not only due to its views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also due to its hostility towards the Palestinian minority in Israel. As the more recent bills show, the predictions that the newly elected “centrist” parties would bring moderation to the 19th Knesset in 2013 have been grossly mistaken. Parties like Yesh Atid and Hatnuah have joined Likud-Beiteinu and HaBayet HaYehudi in sponsoring and signing discriminatory bills, whether out of genuine support or due to coalition obligations.
The growing surge of legislation, however, reveals an intensive effort by political parties to further consolidate Israel’s racial policies into law,and to weaken democratic challenges to that structure. The latest and most alarming evidence of this is the preparation of a new Basic Law, “the Jewish State Law,” which is being supported by both centrist and right-wing governing parties. Some versions will decree that the right of self-determination in Israel belongs exclusively to Jews; other versions will explicitly order Israeli courts to prioritize the state’s Jewish nature over democratic principles.
All of these bills demonstrate the rapidly deteriorating state of human rights within Israel’s own borders. Some of the proposed bills pending in the Knesset echo those of the Jim Crow United States and other racist laws in their explicit efforts to maintain the privileged and segregated rights of one group over another. Non-Jews may have the right to vote and the right to an Israeli passport, but they are not equal citizens in thought or in practice. By ignoring the institutionalized discrimination and inferior rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, the negotiations between Israel and the PLO will continue to evade the deeper elements that perpetuate conflict and injustice in the region.
See Adalah’s Discriminatory Laws Database ( http://adalah.org/eng/Israeli-Discriminatory-Law-Database) for more information on Israel’s proposed and enacted discriminatory legislation since 1948.
Shehadeh is a staff attorney with Adalah and Iraqi works with Adalah’s International Advocacy Unit. Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights is an NGO within Israel.