A bill submitted by three Joint List MKs calling for Israel to be defined as a state of all its citizens was disqualified by the Knesset presidium on Monday before it even reached the Knesset floor for deliberation.
Seven MKs supported the decision to ban debate on the Basic Law: A Country of All Its Citizens," submitted by MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Joumah Azbarga; two MKs opposed it (Esawi Freige from Meretz and Ahmad Tibi from Joint List); and MK Bezalel Smotrich from Habayit Hayehudi abstained.
This is the first time proposed legislation has been disqualified before being discussed in the plenum during the past two Knesset terms.
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon clarified in a statement that, “both in the theoretical plane and in the specific one, it is hard to not see such a proposal as one that seeks to deny Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, and therefore, and in accordance with Article 75(e) of the regulations, the Knesset presidium is qualified to prevent its submission.”
The bill, Yinon noted, “includes several articles that are meant to alter the character of the State of Israel from the nation-state of the Jewish people to a state in which there is equal status from the point of view of nationality for Jews and Arabs."
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The legal adviser also said that the legislation seemed to be aimed at altering basic principles – for example, by essentially cancelling the Law of Return (which declares the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel), and determining instead that receipt of Israeli citizenship will be based on a person’s familial affiliation to another citizen of the state.
In addition, wrote Yinon, the bill negates the principle according to which the symbols of the state reflect the national revival of the Jewish people, in addition to rejecting Hebrew language as the principal language of the state.
In a discussion on the Joint List proposal, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said: “This is a preposterous bill that any intelligent individual can see must be blocked immediately. A bill that aims to gnaw at the foundations of the state must not be allowed in the Knesset. This is the first time since my appointment as Knesset speaker 5 years ago that I am recommending that the presidium disqualify a bill. The three MKs from Balad [one of the parties making up Joint List] keep trying to garner votes through provocation, and we cannot lend a hand to this.”
By contrast, MK Freige said that, “the Jewish majority often challenges the Arab minority, and an example of that is the so-called nation-state law. Why are the drafters of that law allowed but Zahalka is not?”
"The minority," said MK Tibi, "has a right to protest and to oppose conventions such as rights being enjoyed only by the Jewish majority in Israel, a situation that reinforces the inferiority of the Arab minority.”
MK Smotrich, who had abstained said he agreed "completely with the Knesset speaker, that this is indeed an absurd bill. However, a directive that prevents a bill from being discussed at the Knesset needs to come by means a Basic Law, and not from Knesset regulations.”