Arab Knesset members are up in arms against a bill they say is aimed at dividing the country’s Christian and Muslim communities and discriminating against the Muslims.
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MK Issawi Freij (Meretz) asked the Knesset speaker on Wednesday to convene the House presidium to discuss revoking the bill, which has already passed its first Knesset reading.
The bill, sponsored by coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu), aims to legally differentiate Christian and Muslim Arabs and give the Christians separate representation in the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in the Employment Commission.
In an interview with Maariv a few weeks ago, Levin said, “This is an important historic move that can balance Israel and bring us closer to the Christians, and I am careful not to call them Arabs, because they’re not Arabs.
“The Christians can be directors in government corporations, they will get separate representation in local authorities and they’ll get equal employment opportunities,” Levin said.
He said the Christians “are our natural allies, a counter-balance against the Muslims who want to destroy the state from within.”
Freij’s request followed a heated discussion of the bill at the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, during which MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) was sent out of the room after confronting one of the officials invited to the meeting.
Levin’s bill expands the Advisory Committee to include separate representatives to advance employment among each of the Muslim, Christian, Druze and Circassian communities.
He told the committee that the bill’s purpose is to “diversify the Advisory Committee, so that it represents all the different communities it is supposed to take care of.”
“Levin isn’t interested in Arabs’ rights,” said MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) at the debate. “Levin wants to divide the Arab public, which is already oppressed. We won’t be his slaves.”
Zoabi said to Levin: “If you want to correct the injustice caused to Christians, bring them back to Ikrit and Bir’am. Your bill sharpens the issue of Arabs’ identity and the state institutions and Knesset members’ hostility toward them.”
Attorney Ziona Koenig-Yair, the Equal Opportunity in Employment commissioner, said she objected to the bill, calling it redundant. “I’m not interested in it, as I’m not interested in separate representation for Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox and Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox [communities],” she said.
“Anyway, there are no organizations dealing with advancing employment among different Arab communities, only those advancing employment among the Arab population in general,” she said.
Officials of the Abraham Fund who attended the debate castigated the bill. “It’s unacceptable that narrow, controversial political considerations should dictate the composition of the Advisory Committee of the Equal Opportunity Commission, which is a professional body with clear objectives,” an Abraham Fund representative said.
He said the committee’s composition “should be based on the relevant professional considerations.”
Israel Defense Forces Lt. (res.) Shadi Halul, head of a forum that supports Christian Arabs’ enlistment to the IDF, supported the bill and told the Arab MKs: “I’m proud to be Christian. We have a right to self-definition as well.”
Pointing to the Arab MKs at the discussion, he said to the others, “Don’t listen to those racists.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) called Halul “impertinent.”
“Who put you in charge of educating anyone?” he asked.
Zoabi called Halul a coward, telling him, “Go to the streets of Nazareth and Kafr Kana, say the things you said, they’ll give you the proper response.”
At this point committee chairman MK Haim Katz (Likud) sent Zoabi out of the room.