Knesset (illustrative)
Knesset (illustrative)Reuters

The Knesset Presidium on Monday made an unprecedented decision to disqualify a bill proposed by Joint Arab List MKs Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi, and Joumah Azbarga.

The three had submitted a proposal to legislate "Basic Law: A country of all its citizens" which would effectively negate Israel's existence as the Jewish People's nation state.

The Knesset Presidium disqualified the law with a majority of 7 MKs opposing it, while two others (Meretz MK Esawi Frej and Joint Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi) supported it. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) abstained from the vote.

"Both in a fundamental and individual way, it is hard not to see this bill as asking to negate Israel's existence as the Jewish nation's country," the Presidium stated. "Therefore, in accordance with Section 75 (e) of the statute, the Knesset's Presidium is authorize to prevent this bill from being placed on the Knesset table."

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said, "This is an unrealistic bill which every sane person understands must be stopped immediately. It is unthinkable that a proposal aiming to erode the foundations upon which the State of Israel was built will be placed on the Knesset's table. This is the first time since I was appointed Knesset Speaker five years ago that I have suggested the Presidium disqualify a law. The three Balad MKs attempt time and again to gain votes via provocations, and we must not aid them in this."

Balad is one of the factions in the Joint Arab List. The other two Arab parties in the list are Ta'al and Hadash.

Frej, who supported the bill, said, "The Jewish majority challenges the Arab minority on many counts, and one of those is the Nationality Law. Why are those supporting the Nationality Law allowed to do so, but Zahalka is not allowed?"

The Nationality Law, which passed its first Knesset reading last month, legislates Israel's status as the national home of the Jewish people and emphasizes that Hebrew is the official language of the state and has a "special status". The law also states that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

Smotrich, who abstained from the vote, said, "I agree with every word the Knesset Speaker said. Indeed. this is an unrealistic bill. However, an order that a bill not be placed on the Knesset table should be anchored in law, not in the Knesset's statutes."

Zionist Union MK Revital Swid said, "Placing this bill on the Knesset's table may set a precedent for placing other inherently racist bills on the Knesset table. Since this bill negates Israel's existence as the Jewish nation's state and negates the Right of Return, we cannot allow it to be placed on the Knesset's table."

Eyal Yinon, the Knesset's legal adviser, wrote, "The bill proposing 'Basic Law: A country of all its citizens' includes a list of sections intended to change the State of Israel's character from the Jewish people's nation state to a state in which both the Jewish and Arab nations are equal in terms of nationality."

Yinon also noted that the bill included sections which would change various "integral" laws, including canceling the Right of Return, which allows any Jew to become an Israeli citizen. It would also include a section to remove Hebrew as Israel's main language, and negate the principle which basis most of Israel's symbols on the Jewish nation's rebirth.

The Knesset Presidium did not disqualify any laws, either during the 19th Knesset or the 20th Knesset, until now. Yinon emphasized this fact, saying, "None of what was stated above will change the careful approach and great restraint that the Presidium has shown in recent years with regards to disqualifying bills and preventing them from being placed on the Knesset's table."