Nation-state Bill to Advance Due to Chair’s Objection to Arab MK’s Move

Likud’s Ohana accuses Joint List MK of siding with Israeli Arab leadership that ‘supported Hamas’ against IDF

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 13, 2017
RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

At a sensitive moment and in a move that confounds expectations within the governing coalition, the Knesset committee to promote the proposed Basic Law on the Nation-State is set to convene Wednesday, hoping to agree on a version of the bill that could be submitted to the plenum for the final two votes.

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A version of the controversial bill passed the first round in the Knesset May 1. Wednesday’s session is expected to focus on a provision that would privilege the Hebrew language over Arabic.

MK Amir Ohana (Likud), chairman of the committee, turned down requests by Arab lawmakers to postpone the session. MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), a member of the panel, asked Ohana to reschedule the meeting, saying that because he planned to take part in the general strike declared by the Arab community leadership, he would be absent from the legislature Wednesday. Ohana said he had been willing to comply with Jabareen’s request but in the end decided not to, citing what he said was the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee’s support for Hamas.

“Ordinarily I’d tend to honor your request,” Ohana said in a written communication to Jabareen. “The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee once again chose automatically to side with Israel’s enemies. To my mind such activity, when it is accompanied by inciting remarks and slander against the Israeli solders who protect us all, must be made illegal.”

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Ohana continued, “Your decision as members of the Israeli Knesset to comply with the call of the monitoring committee and absent yourselves from tomorrow’s session – which deals with the status of the Arabic language in the State of Israel and as such directly deals with the public that you represent – is improper in my eyes and I am certainly not obliged by it.” Ohana added that the discussion would take place as scheduled, “with or without you.”

On May 1 the bill passed its first vote with 64 MKs voting for the bill and 50 opposing it. The version that was passed was “softer” than previous drafts of the legislation, without a provision meant to subordinate the state’s democratic values to Jewish principles in High Court of Justice rulings.

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Another section of the bill that was approved in the late-night session is intended to allow the establishment of communities for Jews only, even though representatives of the Attorney General’s Office and the Knesset’s legal department have deemed such a move discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The coalition parties had agreed before the May 1 vote that the present version of the law will be shelved, and most likely not advance to the second and third votes during the parliament’s present session, because of opposition from Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties. However, because the proposal won backing in the initial vote, the government coalition that is established after the next election could continue to advance the law to those next stages without having to start the legislative process from the beginning.