Benjamin Netanyahu’s bill fails to accord Arabs social and political rights

Arab Knesset member says bill would make existing situation for Arab citizens even worse

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet yesterday backed draft legislation aimed at strengthening the Jewish character of the Israeli state, a move liberals warn will undermine democracy and heighten discrimination against Arab citizens.

The cabinet voted 14 to six to send two versions of a bill defining Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” to parliament for a preliminary vote this week. But under an elaborate deal engineered by Mr Netanyahu, both versions are to be superseded after the vote by an ostensibly more moderate bill which the premier is currently finalising.

He says his bill will place democratic and Jewish values on an equal footing.

But Mr Netanyahu’s bill, as published in media reports, does not even accord Israel’s Arab minority the “equality of social and political rights” specified in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Rather, it says: “The state of Israel ... upholds the individual rights of all its citizens according to the law.”

Yohanan Plesner, head of the Israel Democracy Institute, said this omission amounted to “minimising Israel’s democratic essence”, while Mohammad Barakeh, an Arab member of the Knesset, said the bill, if passed, would make an existing situation in which Arab citizens face rampant discrimination, even worse.