Israeli Opposition Moves to Fight Right-wing Laws

MKs on the center-left aim to overturn laws that would impose sanctions for 'undermining the foundations of the state and contradicting its values.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israeli left-wing activists demonstrated against the boycott law in July 2011, but in practice no Israeli has been sued for not buying products nade in West Bank settlements.
Israeli left-wing activists demonstrated against the boycott law in July 2011, but in practice no Israeli has been sued for not buying products nade in West Bank settlements.Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Opposition MKs have presented bills in recent weeks in a bid to repeal laws they say sharply curtail the civil rights of Israeli citizens, including the law that penalizes anyone calling for a boycott of Israel.

The opposition is also targeting the law that denies funding to groups that “undermine the foundations of the state and contradict its values,” including its Jewish values. The opposition also opposes the law mandating the establishment of a biometric database, and the law raising the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent from 2 percent.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was opposition leader when many of these laws were passed, so she might be happy to see them stricken off the books. In addition, Livni’s centrist Hatnuah party could find itself stung by the higher electoral threshold — the party won only 5 percent of the vote in the January 2013 parliamentary election.

“She is consistent in her positions,” a source close to Livni said this week. If a bill is raised to annul laws that she opposed in the past, it may be assumed she will support it.”

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party did not exist in the last Knesset, so it is not bound to laws pushed through at that time. Opposition MKs hope Yesh Atid will work against the biometric database law and the law that lets small communities use admissions committees to screen potential new residents — seen as a way to keep out Israeli Arabs and others.

But Yesh Atid’s floor chief Ofer Shelah has declined to comment on the bills, saying he has not studied them and party MKs have not yet discussed them.

The driving force behind one bill is opposition whip Eitan Cabel (Labor). In a bill dubbed “the law to rehabilitate freedom of expression and democracy,” Cabel hopes to overturn the so-called Boycott Law, the admissions-committees law and the so-called Nakba Law, which would fine entities that openly reject Israel as a Jewish state or mark Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning.

Cabel said that even if his bill does not pass, it is an important step. “Not every bill is measured by its chances of passing,” he said. “Some things are important to put on the agenda, and certainly when we think a law is anti-democratic.”

The Arab-Jewish Hadash party also opposes the electoral-threshold law; Hadash received 3 percent of the vote in the last election. Sources in the Arab parties believe they can run on a joint slate if necessary, but they doubt Hadash would join.

Hadash and the Arab parties have proposed two bills. One calls for the repeal of the electoral-threshold law, and the other simply puts the threshold at 2.5 percent, not 3.25 percent or the previous 2 percent.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) says this law was approved only because it was part of the so-called package deal that the governing coalition pushed through. In addition to the 54 opposition MKs who are against raising the threshold, some coalition MKs are against it, including lawmakers from Hatnuah and right-wing Habayit Hayehudi. There are 120 seats in the Knesset.

Hadash and the Arab parties are also proposing a bill to repeal the biometric database law. “The law raises many questions about protecting the basic rights of the individual, particularly the heavy price citizens might pay ... if the database is hacked,” their bill states.

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