Arab MK Tibi Okays Consideration of Rightist MK's 'Racist' Bill

Tibi: Rightists were waiting for us to reject bill on evacuation of Hebron so they could go to the media.

On Monday the Knesset, including Arab MK Ahmed Tibi, agreed to consider the bill put forth by MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) proposing the evacuation of the Palestinian residents of Hebron in 2008.

The introduction to the bill explains that "in order to protect the settlers of Hebron, there is a need to evacuate the Arabs from Hebron."

According to Knesset regulations, "no bill that is in its view fundamentally racist" will be allowed. The Knesset's legal adviser, Nurit Elstein, and Eldad himself, were of the opinion that the proposed legislation would be rejected on these grounds. Nonetheless, the Office of the Knesset Speaker - which represents the Speaker, Dalia Itzik and her deputies - authorized a bill that calls for the eviction of Hebron Arabs, and turned it into part of the Knesset recorded history.

The story begins with a bill put forth by Meretz-Yahad chairman MK Yossi Beilin, calling for the evacuation of the Jewish community from Hebron. The Office of the Speaker approved the proposed legislation, and it was discussed in a preliminary reading in the plenum last October.

Beilin explained that the time had come to end the process in which "we dig graves for sons because of graves of forefathers."

The debate was stormy but right-wing MKs were particularly irate at the government's response. The minister in charge of liaising between Knesset and government, Ruhama Avraham-Balila, surprised them by not expressing her opposition to the mere thought of evacuating the Jewish community from Hebron.

Avraham made do with a statement that "this is a political decision and only the government will decide what will be done and where."

As expected, the bill was rejected by the plenum.

"I thought the bill was racist and the Office of the Speaker should have rejected it, and in order to emphasize how racist it was, I cut and pasted it, changed Jews for Palestinians," MK Eldad said.

Eldad said that he had told Knesset Speaker Itzik that he would not push his bill forward so long as Beilin's would go no further, and added that he had stressed that his was a "mirror image" of the Meretz chairman proposal.

The legal evaluation of Eldad's proposal at the office of the legal counsel to the Knesset lasted many weeks. In the end, Eldad was asked to meet Elstein. He says the meeting included 10 legal advisers who had been brought in to bolster the Knesset legal counsel. Sources in Elstein's office say that they were only five.

Elstein explained that the difference between Beilin's bill and that of Eldad is that the Palestinians living in Hebron are residents of an "Arab city." On the other hand, she explained, the State of Israel is entitled to decide to evacuate its citizens from there.

Eldad said that Hebron is a "Jewish city" and that this is a political debate, not a legal one. Elstein asked him to look at things from her position - which he quipped he was not able to do because it was too far on the left.

Last June, the Office of the Speaker approved a bill put forth by MK Uri Ariel which sought to ensure that Jewish National Fund properties would only be leased to Jews. This was on the basis of Elstein's view that "racism" should be viewed through a more narrow lens and reject "only bills whose racist substance is blatant."

Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi explains that "everyone said that Eldad was waiting for us to reject his bill so that he could go to the Supreme Court and use the bill in the media."

Tibi says that the Office of the Speaker decided to approve the bill so not to give Eldad cause to capitalize on the proposal, which he had promised not to promote further.

The Arab Israeli MK points out that the fact that such a bill is in the records now, is a good thing because historians "will be able to know what we suffered."

For his part, Beilin thinks that Eldad's effort was "childish and unsophisticated. Can you imagine comparing 400 Jews in Hebron to tens of thousands of Arabs?"