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Demands rise for Arab Knesset members to resign in wake of Nationality Law

The Israeli Knesset may be witnessing the highest number of resignations since its creation in light of laws discriminating against Israel’s Arab population, the latest being the Jewish nation-state law.

The highly controversial Jewish nation-state law has heated up debate inside major Israeli parties and exposed a shaky Israeli political governance structure.

No Israeli body seems to have been affected by this law other than the very same building that passed this basic law with a thin majority.

Ever since the election of the 20th Israeli Knesset in 2015, it has been clear that this is the furthest right-wing legislative house since the establishment of Israel. The expectations of many that it would pass far-reaching laws institutionalizing the current state of discrimination and racism existing in Israel appear to have been fulfilled last month.

For most Palestinian citizens in Israel, the nation-state law was no surprise because they have felt the discrimination and treatment as second-class citizens since 1948. From the military laws and orders that restricted their movement in the 1950s, to refusing to let all Palestinian citizens in Israel to reclaim their lands and homes, to not allowing the residents of Ikrit and Biram to return to their villages, to ignoring the discrimination over land use and the resulting Land Day protests that were confronted by the deadly shootings of 13 citizens, the list is long.

By September 2017, the Adalah human rights center in Israel had created a database containing 65 racist laws passed by the Israeli Knesset since the creation of Israel in 1948. What was different in the latest nationality law was that this was a basic law. In a country without a constitution, the basic law is the highest law possible and constitutes a legal reference point to which courts and governmental agencies refer.

Another difference in this law was that the protest came from individuals, groups and parties that have been an integral part of the state of Israel. The loudest and most powerful protest has come from the loyal Druze community whose sons serve in the army and who have paid the ultimate price in life and limb in Israel’s continuous wars. Druze leaders, including high-ranking officers, have objected to the law, and three members of Knesset, including two from the ruling coalition, have petitioned the Israeli High Court against the discriminatory nature of the law. Another Zionist party, the left-wing Meretz Party, also joined in the High Court case against the law on July 31.

One of the Israeli Labor Party’s most well-known members, a popular sports radio host named Zuhair Bahloul, resigned July 29 in protest to the law that discriminates against all non-Jewish citizens in Israel.

With Bahloul’s resignation, the number of Knesset members who have resigned during the 20th Knesset has reached an unprecedented 28 out of 120 members.

While many of the resignations are not related to a political issue per se, the huge number nevertheless reflects a lack of faith in the country’s leading governing body.

Knesset member Issawi Frej of Meretz told Israel Radio on July 30 that he was not surprised that Bahloul had decided to resign. “He is not the last Arab who will leave the Knesset because of the nation-state law, I have no doubt about that,” Frej said.

Among Palestinian citizens of Israel, the calls for mass resignations have been on the increase since the passage of the law. Eid Rabie, an activist who heckled former US President Barack Obama in 2013 when he visited Israel, penned an article in the Haifa-based Arabs48 website Aug. 2 calling for a serious rethinking about the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset. “We should boycott the Knesset if we reach the conclusion that we have reached a dead end and that the price we pay for being in that institution is less than the gain, on condition that we provide alternative avenues for struggle.”

Even before the resignation of Bahloul, the daily Israel Today reported July 30 that more than a quarter members of the Israeli Knesset have resigned since 2015. The paper published a detailed list of the names and reasons for many of the resignations. “Eleven lawmakers chose to give up politics and take other positions outside the Knesset: Moshe Ya'alon and Danny Danon (Likud); Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beitenu); Yigal Guetta (Shas); Avi Wortzman (Jewish Home); Isaac Herzog, Erel Margalit, Manuel Trajtenberg and Daniel Atar (Zionist Union); Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) and Zehava Galon (Meretz),” Israel Today said.

“Eleven more left because of either rotation agreements within their party or the Norwegian law, which allows ministers to resign their seat in favor of another party member: Aryeh Deri, Meshulam Nahari and Yitzhak Cohen (Shas); Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beitenu); Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu); Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home); Meir Porush (UTJ); and Youssef Atauna, Osama Saadi, Abdullah Abu Maaruf and Ibrahim Hijazi (Joint List),” it added.

According to the paper, “Four others left due to scandals or allegations made against them: Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List, Yinon Magal of Jewish Home, Silvan Shalom of Likud and Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid. Another Knesset member, Eitan Broshi of Zionist Union, is under pressure to quit over a sexual harassment scandal.”

Yisrael Medad, a former Knesset parliamentary aide, told Al-Monitor that the pay, long hours and the competitive, hard-nosed politics of the Knesset contributed to the large number of dropouts. “Hanan Porat and Zuhair Bahloul did so for ideological reasons. But my distinct impression is that too many Knesset members and those seeking to become members have contributed to a lessening of the quality as well as reducing public trust in the Knesset. As a result, some — not all — simply give up as the job wasn't what they expected.”

Ahmad Tibi, a long-term Palestinian Knesset member, told Al-Monitor that the resignations are business as usual in the Israeli Knesset. “Some reflect internal party issues and others resigned as part of rotation agreements.”

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