Israeli Arab Lawmaker Quits Knesset in Protest Over Nation-state Law

'The law oppresses me and the population that sent me to the Knesset,' Zouheir Bahloul says about the contentious legislation

MK Zouheir Bahloul, May 5, 2015
Knesset Spokesperson's Office

Israeli Arab Knesset Member Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) announced Saturday his intention to resign from the Knesset in protest over the controverisal nation-state law.

Bahloul announced his resignation in an appreance on the television show "Meet the Press."

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

"The law oppresses me and oppresses the population that sent me to the Knesset,'' he said. 

"The government submits the Knesset to its whims. The Knesset has become a rubber stamp of exceptional and racist legislation. I will run from it as one runs from raging fire," the lawmaker continued.

>> Israel just turned Israel-skeptics into Israel-haters | Opinion ■ Israeli Druze leaders to Netanyahu: Change the nation-state lawIsrael's contentious nation-state law: Everything you need to know ■ Analysis: Netanyahu Is Laying a Trap for Israel's LGBT and Druze Minorities

The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People approved by the Knesset on July 19 affirmed that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel. It also downgraded Arabic to a language with “special status,” among several other controversial measures that affect the Israeli Druze.

The nation-state law is designed to alter the application of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty in court rulings, and permits judges to give priority to Israel’s Jewish character in their rulings.

Incoming opposition leader Tzipi Livni responded to Bahloul's announcement by saying that she regretted his decision, "especially at a time when the tyranny of the majority and extreme nationalism is hurting minorities in our society. This is the time to combine the forces of all those who believe in a State of Israel that is both Jewish and democratic, with equality for all."

Israel's Labor Party released an official statement lamenting Bahloul's sudden announcement, writing that party members were "sorry to hear about the Zouheir Bahloul's decision. The nation-state law is a kick in the head of more than a fifth of Israel's population, which would be a Jewish state with or without it. When we return to power we will amend this law as well, and add to it what is supposed to be obvious, the word 'equality.'"

Knesset Member Shelly Yacimovich said in response that "the resignation of Zouheir is very unfortunate and ominous. The fact that an Israeli Arab deeply involved in Israeli society is no longer able to remain in the Knesset is one of the many damaging consequences of the racist nation-state law, which is so destructive to Israeli society. "

One segment of Israeli Arab society has been at the forefront of the resistance to this law, the Druze. On Sunday, Druze lawmakers were the first to file a High Court of Justice petition against the law. A hundred Druze Israel Defense Forces reserve officers added their voices to that effort on Wednesday, prompting Education Minister Naftali Bennett to speak out in support of “our blood brothers” on Twitter. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting with Druze leaders to discuss the impact of the new law on Israel’s Druze community.

MK Saleh Saad (Zionist camp), one of the three Druze lawmakers to file a High Court of Justice petition against the law, said in response that "the departure of Zouheir Bahloul is a severe blow to the representation of minorities in the Knesset. I remain in the Knesset to represent the minorities in general and the Druze in particular, and will continue the struggle until the annulment of this discriminatory law. "