Knesset Drops Arab Bill to Make Israel ‘State of All Citizens’

Chairman of the Israeli parliament Yuli Edelstein. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset steering committee, made up of 10 senior MKs, rejected for a plenum vote a measure promoted by the United Arab List that would have defined Israel officially as “a state of all its citizens.” The committee, by a vote of seven in favor, two against and one abstention, accepted the opinion of Knesset attorney Eyal Yinon, who recommended turning the bill down for a vote “because it seeks to deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”

The measure would have anchored in law recognition that Israel is made up of two distinct groups – a Jewish majority and an Arab minority – but that all citizens should be treated equally and that Israel was a democracy “of all its people, not of any specific group.” The measure is similar to others that the Arab party has proposed for several years.

Of the 10 members of the committee, MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) abstained. Smotrich said he did so not because he had any doubts about the need to dismiss the bill, but that “a direct instruction not to vote on a measure in the plenum should be anchored in a basic law,” not the decision of a committee.

MK Issawi Freij (UAL) argued against dismissing the bill, saying that “the Jewish majority challenges the Arab minority in numerous areas, like in the State of Israel Law (chok hale’om). Why is that law allowed to be voted on, given that it will anchor Israel as a Jewish state, but not this one?” According to MK Ahmed Tibi, “a minority also has the right to question the commonly accepted issues.”

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein expressed satisfaction that the bill was dropped. “We cannot allow wasteful and silly votes that question everything this country was built on to be presented. I have been talking about preventing this bill from reaching a vote for five years, and the UAL MKs keep using this as an excuse for provocations. We cannot allow this to continue.”

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