The Knesset Presidium rejected a proposed bill by Joint List MKs rejecting Israel as the Jewish State on Monday, blocking it from going to a vote.
The proposed Basic Law: State of All Its Citizen includes a series of articles meant to change Israel’s character from being a Jewish state to one giving equal status to the Jewish nationality and the Arab nationality, such as canceling the Law of Return, which only allows Jews to immigrate to Israel.
The Presidium is made up of the Knesset Speaker and his deputies. It rejected the bill – submitted by MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Jouma Azbarga from the Balad Party – on the advice of Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon.
“As a matter of principle and in its details, it’s hard not to see this proposal as seeking to negate the State of Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, and therefore...the Presidium has the authority to prevent it from being put on the Knesset’s agenda,” Yinon said.
Seven Presidium members voted in favor of blocking the bill. Two were opposed – MKs Esawi Frej (Meretz) and Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) – and MK Bezalel Smotrich of Bayit Yehudi abstained.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said the bill is “absurd” and should be blocked – the first time in his five years as speaker that he has recommended such a thing.
“We cannot allow a proposal whose goal is to eat away at the foundations the State of Israel is built upon to be on the Knesset’s agenda,” Edelstein said. “The three MKs from Balad try again and again to get votes through provocations, and we cannot help them.”
Tibi argued that “even a minority has the right to protest against conventions, like the increased rights for the Jewish majority in Israel.”
Smotrich said he agrees with everything that Edelstein said, but he thinks that the ability to prevent putting a bill to a vote should be in a Basic Law and not the Knesset rulebook.
This is the first time the Knesset has rejected a bill since the 18th Knesset, and Yinon said the Presidium needs to be especially cautious in exercising this authority.
Balad plans to petition the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international body of parliaments of which Israel is a member, to complain about the Presidium’s decision.
“Balad sees the rejection of the bill as a severe step that reflects extremism in relation to democratic demands... and blatant discrimination against MKs with a democratic worldview, and severe harm to freedom of expression,” the party stated.