Following a raucous debate, the Knesset on Tuesday passed the controversial Regional Registry Law, popularly known as the Green Law (HaHok HaYarok), by the expected overwhelming majority. Ignoring the international outcry, the Prime Minister immediately ordered the Interior Ministry to prepare for implementation of the law within 60 days.
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Members of the Jewish Democracy Union (JDU) opposition, the amalgam of previously center-left parties, put up a brave fight, filibustering and using arcane Knesset procedures in order to postpone the vote until past midnight. They castigated the new law, claiming that it was “was reminiscent of dark regimes in the past” and even “a desecration of the memories of our forefathers,” but the prime minister dismissed their complaints out of hand.
“People are fed up with irrelevant analogies and outrageous comparisons,” he admonished the 12-member opposition faction.
“The first duty of this government is to provide security for our citizens,” he added, citing the long list of recent acts of violence in Arab villages in the Galilee as well as mixed cities throughout the country.
“When people raise their hands against our Jewish state, we will not hesitate to strike them down.”
The new law was the centerpiece of the government’s response to the month-long riots and demonstrations that had left thirteen Israelis dead and several dozen wounded. Public opinion had been particularly enraged by the Molotov cocktail attack in Haifa that had left an entire family hospitalized with severe burn wounds.
Although close to 120 Arabs had been killed in the riots by police and by members of the so-called Nation’s Sentries (Shomrei Ha’Uma) that had recently been authorized to shoot to kill, political pressure on the government continued to climb to fever pitch and has only died down in recent weeks following the introduction of the Registry Law.
The Galilee “events” – Me’oraot III as they were now known – had broken out in the wake of the Interior Minister’s suggestion that more Arab villages be added to the estimated 350,000 residents of the towns and villages in the so-called Triangle, close to the so-called Green Line, who had already been deprived of their voting rights last year in an act that the Israeli government called “administrative withdrawal.”
Israeli government spokespersons noted at the time that Israel would continue to supply social services to the Triangle Arabs for a period of at least 24 months; they were also free to vote in the elections for the Arab Management Authority (AMA) that had replaced the now-defunct Palestinian Authority, the spokesperson said.
Although the move elicited widespread condemnation around the world – the charge d’affaire who now represented Israel in Washington had been handed a tough protest note – most Israelis agreed with the prime minister’s denunciation of an “anti-Semitic world that is no different today than it was back in 1938.” In a speech that electrified the nation and virtually guaranteed him his sixth term in office, the prime minister said: “There are over 80 democratic countries in the world – but only one Jewish state. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that it survives forever. We owe it to our forefathers just like we owe it to our grandchildren."
The prime minister noted that the Supreme Court had given its stamp of approval to the administrative withdrawal from the Triangle, though he downplayed the minority opinion’s dissent that claimed the measure would be considered unconstitutional under the previous legal system and possibly illegal by international law. But the court had ruled that its hands were tied by the 2014 Israel: The Nation State of the Jewish People Law (Hok Ha’Leom, for short) that clearly put the country’s Jewish character ahead of its adherence to “all the nuts and bolts of democracy’” as the president of the court noted.
In any case, the court added, the Enhancement Law passed the same year – which some pundits, now in administrative detention, had irresponsibly compared to the 1933 Enabling Law passed by the German Reichstag – specifically prohibited the court from nullifying a law that was meant to “strengthen the Jewish character of the country” and had been approved by more than 61 members of the Knesset. The “Jewish Fortification and Demographic Adjustment Law,” (widely known as Hok Ha’Hizuk) which had prescribed the “virtual secession” of the Triangle, had been passed by a much larger majority of 96-12, with then-Arab Members of Knesset boycotting the vote.
Several months after the law went into effect and the Triangle Arabs were deprived of their voting rights, the Knesset raised the threshold for parliamentary representation to 7.5% - “in order to stabilize and strengthen our Jewish democracy”, as the coalition leader said. In the subsequent snap elections called by the prime minister, the Arabs were no longer electable and the lone list headed by Ahmed Tibi failed to garner even half of the votes required.
The Prime Minister’s Office had fought off biased foreign media reports about the so-called “political apartheid” by pointing to the three non-Jewish members of the ruling “Jewish Front” party comprised of the former Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu and large parts of Yesh Atid. “We have two Druze members and one Russian immigrant who won’t convert,” the GPO said in a statement, “proving that Israel remains not only a vibrant democracy but also – the only one in the Middle East.”
The GPO, meanwhile, also expelled a New York Times reporter who wrote of “Jewish supremacy” as well as the Wall Street Journal stringer who had written of “ethnic cleansing” and was subsequently dismissed by his own newspaper. At the same time, Jewish activists in pinstripe concentration-camp suits launched daily sit-ins at the entrance to the Times’ offices in midtown Manhattan, waving placards that read “NYTimes: One Holocaust wasn't enough for you?”
The IDF and Border Police, meanwhile, had their hands full dealing with the bloody riots (Me’oraot II) that had broken out in the Triangle towns of Taibeh and Tirah but eventually decided to impose a total blockade on the towns and to “let them kill each other” as the Israeli police chief said, though he later claimed his words had been taken out of context. The prime minister accused the Amman-based Palestinian government in exile – the Ramallah branch had long disbanded – of incitement to terror. Israel also lodged a formal complaint with the UN Security Council “though we won’t hold our breaths,” as Israel’s envoy to that body, now reduced to observer status, said with disgust.
As expected, the world soon forgot about the previously-Israeli Triangle Arabs, but relations with remaining Arab population continued to deteriorate following the recent elections and the Interior Minister’s remarks about applying the precedent in the Galilee as well, which, analysts claimed, was a trial balloon for the prime minister himself. Riots had broken out once again, with the violence now striking mixed cities such as Haifa, Acre and Jaffa and terror striking many Jewish hearts. Large demonstrations were held outside the Knesset under the slogan “Jews aren’t safe in the Jewish state” and the prime minister’s approval ratings began to plummet, despite his recent electoral victory. The immediate beneficiaries were his Third Temple Now! coalition partners whose poll numbers soared in the wake of their hugely successful “Arabs Out” campaign on Facebook and other social media.
Political analysts believe that it was against this backdrop that the prime minster initiated and the Government’s ministerial committee unanimously approved the new Registry Law. Citing security reasons, the new law would have non-Jewish residents of Israeli villages and towns present themselves at their local police stations on a biweekly basis. In its response to the complaint lodged at the International Criminal Court the government said that the measure aimed “to increase collaboration between the authorities and non-Jewish citizens” and was meant for their own protection as well. The government also deflected renewed international criticism, countering with its “Israel is the still the safest place for an Arab to live” campaign.
“We won’t be lectured by countries that allowed Jews to be taken to the gas chambers like lambs to the slaughter,” the deputy foreign minister told a small group of low level diplomats representing countries that still maintained direct links with Israel.
He handed the envoys a copy of the crisply-written letter from the new head of the Shin Bet whose predecessor had been fired following revelations that he had accepted a now-illegal scholarship from the anti-Semitic Oxford University. The letter, which highlighted the security advantages of the new Registry law, also featured prominently in the prime minister’s Knesset speech last week, which some officials said was “one of his finest.”
The media had been speculating for days about the meaning of the term Green Law (it rhymes in Hebrew) which had been inadvertently used in a leaked draft of the prologue to the new law. Responding to one confidante’s assertion that “as usual, you’ll get your answer in a poster”, columnists embarked on a virtual frenzy of speculation and guesswork, with one newspaper even launching a national contest in which readers were asked to create a meme that would reflect “the prime minister’s new gimmick.”
Now the moment had finally arrived. Scores of photographers lined up for a clear shot in the back of the Knesset auditorium and Twitter numbers hit the roof with the hashtag #yarokyarok. The prime minister bent down to pick up the poster, gave a slight smile as he posed for dramatic effect, then turned it over in the direction of the audience.
Knesset members, along with millions in Israel and around the world, gasped in astonishment: The poster showed a young and handsome Arab man, moustache and kafiyya included, wearing a light tan shirt with two small green crescents sewed on to each sleeve. Arabs seeking to enter any Jewish or mixed town would be obliged to wear the crescents, for their own safety as well as that of the Jews. Out of consideration for their feelings, the prime minister noted, the new law would exempt Muslim women sporting hijabs, abayas or chadors from wearing the crescents.
“There is nothing degrading here,” the prime minister said later in an interview on Fox News, “on the contrary: Arabs should be proud to wear their heritage on their sleeves.” He seemed surprised and disappointed by his interviewer’s question on similarities with the yellow star worn by Jews in Europe. “That was meant for humiliation and far worse,” he answered, “while our only concern is security and the future of the Jewish state. We have the utmost respect for our Arab citizens.”
Editorials from newspapers around the world lambasted Israel the next day, with some featuring articles written by former Israeli columnists who had opted for “voluntary exile” rather than jail terms following their conviction for sedition and for “undermining the Jewish nation-state.” The European Union met in Brussels in emergency session and threatened to downgrade whatever remained of its cooperation agreements with Israel, while the State Department spokesman in Washington only raised his hands in despair and repeated his description of the new measures as “reprehensible.” He was widely reprimanded the next day by the Republican-controlled Senate as well as the reconstituted Jewish Nation-State Council (JNSC) that had replaced the now defunct Conference of Presidents.
Within a few days, however, Israeli Arabs returned to those Jewish towns that still allowed their employment, with some even sporting shirts with green crescents that were either much larger than that prescribed by law or worn on their chest rather than on their sleeves. Experts remained divided on whether this was meant to be an act of pride or of protest.
Speaking to his advisers behind closed doors, the prime minister marked yet another personal “I told you so” victory over their doomsday predictions. “This is but another small step in the fight to ensure the survival of the Jewish nation,” he told them with undisguised satisfaction. But he also warned against complacency: “We've come a long way since we legislated the Jewish nation-state law back in 2014, but we still have a long way to go.”