View Full Version : Israel faces two troublesome bills aiming at local Arabs

Mohammad Shahjahan
05-26-2009, 04:57 AM
Following a motion approved by a ministerial committee on Sunday to prohibit events marking Palestinians' Catastrophe Day in Israel, another motion to oblige every Israeli citizen, including Arabs, to take "loyalty oath" and sign a statement would be brought up to vote next Sunday. These legislations caused a storm among Israeli experts and intellectuals, many of whom warned the two bills were problematic from a constitutional point of view, while local Arabs shrugged off the moves, saying they would never obey such "stupid orders."
On May 15, 1948, Israel declared it was a sovereign state. Since then, May 15 becomes a day of mourning for Palestinians, whocall it "Yawm Al-Nakba" or "Catastrophe Day" and use the occasion to demonstrate and protest in order to mark the start of what has become known as the Palestinian refugee issue.
Aiming at banning all events marking "Yawm Al-Nakba," Israel Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party Knesset member Alex Miller early this month introduced a bill, which wants to see a three-year jail term for those breaching the law.
The bill, called by local press as "Nakba Law," was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs this Sunday and was scheduled for a first Knesset reading next week. According to Ynet newspaper, members of the sub committee within the government that considers new legislation split on the bill.
Among those trying to quash the bill are Israel's Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and three ruling Likud party's ministers. "The proposed law does not correspond with the freedom of expression practiced in Israel -- a Jewish and democratic state," a petition signed by them wrote.
Amnon Rubinstein, a former government minister with the dovish Meretz party told Xinhua Monday that turning Israel's Independence Day into a day of tragedy was "inappropriate."
However, he believed the actions taken by Israel Beiteinu towards Israeli Arabs in general, and this piece of legislation in particular, were misguided, to say the least.
Rubinstein, who these days is a highly respected professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, set out three reasons for his contention.
Firstly, he said, freedom of speech was paramount in a democratic society and it should only be prevented when it posed a real danger, but "that is not the case here."
His second argument was that the law would be ineffective and impossible to implement.
Finally, given Israel's already poor standing in the eyes of the international community, this could only seek to have a detrimental effect.
Israel's shift rightwards towards the political hawks came a month after the country's military operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in January.
While Israel's actions were condemned internationally, at home the attacks on Hamas targets were welcomed and the political right rose to power, with Israel Beiteinu the second-largest party in the government.
"It is the first populist attempt in Israel to reclaim history and prevent attempts to wipe out 3,000 years of history and their replacement with the myth of 1948," said Gerald Steinberg on Monday, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, located just outside Tel Aviv.
This type of legislation was on the cards prior to Israel's February general election, during which Israel Beiteinu's platform centered on the Israeli-Arab question.
With about one out of five Israelis being Arab, many Jews fear for the demographic future of the Jewish state and some question the loyalty of this large non-Jewish minority.
The Israel Beiteinu manifesto calls for all Arabs to swear an oath of allegiance to the state. That clause sent alarm bells off not only in the Arab world and amongst Israel's Muslim population, but also among many more dovish Jewish Israelis.
The party's leader Avigdor Lieberman was then dubbed a racist by many. Lieberman was now the country's foreign minister, and many political analysts assumed he was behind the "Nakba Law" legislation.
Moreover, Lieberman's party Monday proposed a "Loyalty Law" for Israeli citizens and planned to seek a vote at a cabinet meeting next Sunday.
"Receiving citizenship under law will be contingent on a loyalty oath," the proposed draft read, which also included a clause on the wording of the loyalty oath, likely to cause disagreements: "I commit to being loyal to the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic and Zionist state, to its symbols and values and to serve the country as needed through military service or an alternative service, as decided by law."
To these two cases, Rubinstein was convinced that if the bills become law, it would be challenged in Israel's High Court of Justice, which was perceived as having dovish views.
However, this radicalization in Israel should not just be fought on a case by case basis but rather by "giving equality to Israel's Arabs in society and the economy. I don't know if it can be done but we must try," said Rubinstein.
Contrary to some Jewish experts provoked by the two bills, many Arabic residents showed contempt to them. Ahmed Awada, member of Arabic party Hadash, which held four seats in Knesset, told Xinhua: "Nakba Day is a day about Palestinian's nationalism, nobody can stop it, these stupid bills could not be passed in the Knesset. Even though they become laws, we would never obey them and I believe there would be more Nakba protest."
Awada was one of the organizers of Nakba protest held last weekend in Akko, 300 kilometers north of Jerusalem.