Knesset Member Seeks 'Full Civic Partnership’ Law for Arab Minority

Ahmed Tibi is responding to a bill that aims to make Hebrew Israel’s only official language.

Emil Salman

An Israeli legislator said Sunday he would push for a new Basic Law calling for “a full civic partnership and recognition of Arabs as a national minority.”

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) was speaking after right-wing Knesset members said last week they sought to make Hebrew Israel’s only official language. Tibi will have a chance to move his bill forward when the Knesset’s winter session begins on October 26.

Tibi said the new Basic Law would be based on international charters dealing with minorities. It would improve Arabs’ rights to cultural diversity and equality, and help protect them against discrimination, he said.

“I challenge Israeli democracy to ensure equality for all its citizens, including Arabs,” Tibi told Haaretz. “If the Knesset and government reject this bill, this will send a strong and clear message regarding the state’s refusal to grant equality to its Arab citizens. It will freeze the current situation of personal and national discrimination in all aspects of life.”

According to Tibi’s bill, “The Arab minority is entitled to respect for its culture and heritage in the State of Israel. The Arab minority is entitled to equal rights and an absence of discrimination in education, housing, language, property rights and employment.”

According to the bill, Israel would achieve a “civic partnership in all walks of life, including appropriate representation in state institutions.”

According to the right-wing bill unveiled last week, the government and local authorities would no longer have to publish announcements and forms in Arabic. Arabic would no longer be used at government ministries and in the courts.

This bill is backed by a lobby including law professor Aviad Hacohen and a former head of the Education Ministry’s pedagogy department, Zvi Zameret.

Tibi, meanwhile, has the backing of MKs including Issawi Freij of the left-wing Meretz party. “We are repeatedly witnessing attempts by the right to rid one-fifth of Israel’s population from the public debate,” Freij told Haaretz.

“People on the right have adopted a racist and violent tone, making it legitimate and acceptable. Anyone seeking to eradicate the Arabic language in Israel will in the future want to burn books written by Arab writers.”

According to Freij, some seek to “instill hatred and wipe out a culture. When the Education Minister ignores Arab students, fomenting the abolition of teaching Arabic, this only supports extremists who wish to completely neglect the Arabic-speaking population in this country.”

Right-wing bills on the Arabic language’s status have reached the Knesset before. In August 2011, a bill sought to subordinate Israel’s democratic identity to its Jewish identity.

That bill proposed that Hebrew become the sole official language, dropping Arabic and English from the list. Arabic speakers, though, would still have “accessibility to state services, to be determined by legislation.”

In May 2008, MK Limor Livnat (Likud) sought to make Hebrew the sole main official language, relegating Arabic to a minor official language along with English and Russian.

“It cannot be, it is not appropriate or reasonable that the status of one language or another in the Land of Israel be identical to the status of the Hebrew language,” Livnat said at the time.

“Precisely in these times, when there are radical groups of Israeli Arabs trying to turn the State of Israel into a binational state, it is most urgent to put into law the unique status of the language of the Bible — the Hebrew language.”