Arab citizens strongly object to the ‘Jewish State’ bill, but many Druse show support


Just hours after PM Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the bill, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni postponed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s vote at the last minute.



Arabs strongly oppose an initiative giving Israel’s status as a Jewish state legal weight or removing the status of Arabic as an official language, seeing it as an anti-Arab move that is against democratic values.

Jewish and arab at Rami Levy supermarket in Jerusalem

Jewish and Arab customers at a Rami Levy supermarket in Jerusalem. – Photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) postponed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s vote at the last minute on Sunday, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the bill.

Amal Jamal, head of the International Graduate Program on Political Science and Political Communication at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday that Arabs oppose the law because “the law is exclusive – reiterating the status of Israel as a state for its Jewish citizens.”

Jamal, who also is the General Director of the NGO I’lam – Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, argues that it raises a democratic issue – “the question of who is the sovereign of the state – all Jewish people or the citizens that live here, which includes non-Jews?”

The law removes the sovereignty from the citizens, he says, and shifts it to all Jews, many of whom are not citizens of Israel. It also “empties citizenship of meaning because it becomes exclusive” to one ethnic group, added Jamal.

Jamal add that such a law would give the majority a privilege that is not “part of the democratic game.” By formulating the law this way, “you are actually constitutionalizing a rule,” which then removes it from public debate, he said.

If Israel wants to be like a Western democracy, argued Jamal, then it should not pass such a law of binding an ethnic group to the state.

Atta Farhat, the head of the Druse Zionist Council for Israel, told the Post that since the Gaza war, Muslim Arabs have been inciting against the Druse all over the country because they support the state and serve in the army.

“This is the Jewish state – how it was 3000 years ago and it will continue to be that way,” exclaimed Farhat. Our only similarity with the Arabs is by language, argued Farhat, adding that, “We are not Palestinians and do not have religious or cultural connections with them, but are full Israeli citizens.”

This law comes too late, commented Farhat, “it should have been made in 1948” when Israel gained its independence. “I want the state to be a Jewish state and not one ‘for all its citizens’,” since “Jews respect others and their way of life.”

“We see what is happening in Iraq, Egypt, and other Arab countries. We don’t want to live under a government of darkness, but where we have freedom,” he said.

Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer and director of the social and economic rights unit at Adalah, told the Post that the main problem of the proposal is that by giving Jews primacy in the state, it ends up being “just another step” to “ruining the status of Palestinian Arabs in Israel – making them inferior.”

In fact, argues Zaher, the current legal system already “anchors the Jewish nature of the state.” For example, the Law of Return allows for the immigration of Jews, but does not permit Arabs to reunite with their families that live in the West Bank, Gaza, or elsewhere, she said. Equality for all citizens means that you do not give the priority to Jews.

Zaher argues that the political timing of this proposal soon after the Gaza war this past summer and the recent protests in the Arab sector, “is telling Arabs that they are inferior and will never be equal citizens in their own country.”

Regarding the attempt to remove Arabic as an official language and give it a different special status, Zaher says that the Arabic language is already not treated as an official language despite it officially being one.

Asked how Adalah would react if the proposal passes, Zaher responded that they will have to discuss the issue before talking about appealing to the High Court.

Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told the Post in an interview on Sunday that Israel still “does not know who a Jew is so they should first decide on that before looking to make Arabs the enemy and hurt their rights.”

“I hope” that those who are behind this law “remember that there are still Jews living as a minority in other countries,” he said.
Whether this proposal will pass or not, is not the issue, said Farah, as the real issue is that our citizenship is constantly being “tested.” “We are sick of this, it is not political, it is racist.”

This is just an effort by those behind the law “to complicate the situation of our community, this is their agenda, instead of dealing with helping,” such as dealing with unemployment or economic issues, said Farah.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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