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Let the Knesset Decide

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Opposition Knesset members discussing strategy; clockwise from left: Tamar Zandberg, Ahmad Tibi, Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog, March 2018.
Opposition Knesset members discussing strategy; clockwise from left: Tamar Zandberg, Ahmad Tibi, Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog, March 2018. Credit: Emil Salman

The Knesset presidium’s decision to disqualify the proposed Basic Law on Israel as the State of All its Citizens a priori, even before it had been submitted to the representatives for debate, is an essentially anti-democratic act. The Knesset is the premier representative of the people, who are the sovereign power in a democracy, and it is the body that debates bills and approves or rejects them. There was no reason to prevent it from debating the bill submitted by Joint List MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Joumah Azbarga.

On the contrary, in the long-standing debate over whether there’s a contradiction between Israel's democratic component and its Jewish component, those who insist that there is no contradiction between the two argue that this is so because a majority of Israelis want it to be the state of the Jewish people. For this very reason, had the bill been brought up for debate, it would surely have been voted down. And in any case, should the time come when most Israelis want to make substantive changes in the state’s self-definition, no democratic mechanism, and certainly not the Knesset bylaws, can stand between the people and such a change.

The bill was disqualified on the basis of Article 75(e) of the Knesset’s bylaws, which says, “The Knesset presidium shall not approve a bill which, in its view, rejects Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, or which is racist in essence.” But a footnote to this provision states, “This authority does not include the power to not approve a bill because of objections, no matter how strong, to its sociopolitical content.”

Even though the presidium claims it disqualified the bill because it subverts Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, the real reason for its disqualification actually appears to have been strong objections to its political content. These objections were even shared by the Zionist Union party’s representative in the presidium, MK Revital Swid, who supported the decision to disqualify the bill. This is further proof that on key issues, Zionist Union is not an alternative to the right.

The Knesset presidium has approved many bills that blatantly discriminate between Jews and Arabs, enshrine the extra rights enjoyed by the Jewish majority and reinforce the inferiority of the Arab minority, first and foremost the nation-state bill. Wouldn’t it be possible to argue that these bills – as many of their opponents, Jewish and Arab alike, do in fact argue – are essentially racist? Wouldn’t it be possible to view the various annexation bills – which, among other things, would mean a radical change in Israel’s demographic balance – as constituting a more serious threat to Israel’s future as the national home of the Jewish people?

Attempting to use the Knesset bylaws to block bills that challenge Israel’s Jewish majority is unacceptable. The Knesset must be allowed to debate the proposed Basic Law on Israel as a State of All its Citizens.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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