On June 4, the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) blocked a proposed bill which called for political equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel. The bill was sponsored by an Arab political group desiring equal citizenship for both Jewish and Arab nationalities. The aim of the bill was to restructure the basic principles of the state of Israel by levelling the field between Jewish and Arab people. The Law of Return, which automatically gives citizenship to any Jew who requests it, would have been eliminated under the proposed bill. In addition, Israeli national symbols would have been altered to express Arab elements in addition to Jewish ones. Many felt that these changes would break down the main tenets of the state itself. As a result, the bill was rejected before it was even brought to the floor for debate.
Haaretz reports that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein argued against the bill, stating that “A bill that aims to gnaw at the foundations of the state must not be allowed in the Knesset.” Many who want to preserve the current status of Jews in Israel agreed with Edelstein’s opinion. However, Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Knesset, spoke out on the other side of the debate. According to Al Jazeera, Zahalka asked, “Why should Jews from around the world come here and become privileged citizens in the state while native Arab Palestinians are relegated to second-class status?” This query embodies the thoughts of many who compose the Arab minority in Israel. Zahalka noted that even if the bill had been accepted to the floor for debate, it would have been quickly struck down by the Jewish majority who desire to maintain the status quo.
The debate over the proposed bill brings the character of Israel’s democracy into question. Many feel that “constitutional biases” towards Jewish citizens undermine the validity of the state’s democracy. Arabs criticize the right-wing members of the Knesset for placing higher value on privileges for Jews than promoting true democratic principles. According to Al-Monitor, the latest Peace Index reports that 41% of all Israelis think democracy in the country is currently threatened. Because the majority of the seats in the Knesset are held by Jews, Arabs do not feel they receive fair representation. The current blockage of the Arab-proposed bill further undercuts the rights of Arab officials to submit legislation for discussion.
The dismissal of this bill has sparked some controversy in the nation, as this is the first time the current Knesset has shot down a bill before it could be brought to debate. Arab citizens are frustrated by the motion, as their efforts to obtain equal citizenship were not even given a chance. This parliamentary action could possibly spark further conflict between Arabs and Jews in Israel. If Arabs are refused the right to take legal action within their established democratic government, they may seek other methods to procure the changes they want to see. Without such changes, tensions between the two nationalities may deepen and possibly lead to unrest. The Israeli democracy must acknowledge that it does not justly represent a significant portion of the population of Israel, and action will need to be taken in order to satisfy all parties.