Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset
Arab Center Washington DC
The MK Expulsion bill, approved in July 2016, is the latest in a series of anti-civil liberty laws in Israel. The Expulsion bill allows dismissing serving Members of Knesset based on political grounds. and as such Palestinian Arab MKs are likely to be the first group harmed by the bill. Also in July, the Knesset passed a NGO bill that targets human rights groups and critics of the Netanyahu government, thus threatening the freedoms of association and expression. Beyond these two laws, the Israeli government has had a history of enacting legislation intended to erode the civil liberties of Palestinians, the Israeli left and other dissidents.
On August 25 the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) hosted a luncheon discussion with Dr. Basel Ghattas, Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, who provided an update on the recent Israeli laws that target civil liberties in Israel. Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of ACW opened the discussion by introducing MK Ghattas and the work he has done to promote justice for Palestinian civil rights. Jahshan emphasized that in addition to impacting Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Israeli MK Expulsion bill also has significant internal implications for Israel and for US-Israeli relations.
MK Ghattas was extremely candid in his assessment of the current situation in Israel resulting from these laws. He described Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as the “most extreme, fanatic government,” stating that what is needed in Israel is an alternative government. However, Ghattas expressed grave doubt that any future election will bring about a serious government committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace. With some considering the current government as the most right-wing in Israeli history, Ghattas wondered if the Israeli government has “lost its mind” by appointing the controversial Avigdor Liberman to replace Moshe Ya’alon as Defense Minister. Noting the “uncompromising” method of governing, Ghattas explained that Netanyahu has never been serious about peace with the Palestinians and that his purpose in governing is to prove he can “manage the conflict” for as long as possible.
With regard to the Expulsion Law, Ghattas termed it a “purely political law” allowing the Knesset to dismiss serving MKs with a majority vote of 90 members if they determined the conditions for expulsion are met: incitement to racism or supporting armed struggle against Israel. Clearly, said Ghattas, the purpose of the law is the expulsion of Palestinian Arab members, where a Jewish majority Knesset can claim and enact any such conditions that serve the state’s right-wing agendas. In Ghattas’ words, the law is no more than “an attack on freedom of speech.” Ghattas had equally harsh words for the new NGO law, which he described as an “attack on civil society.” For example, Israeli government intelligence accused World Vision of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas. As a result, contributions to World Vision have plummeted disabling this international Christian humanitarian organization from fundraising to help the Palestinian people.
Legislation emerging from the Israeli Knesset has always been anti-Palestinian and designed to trample the rights of the Palestinian people. There has been a disturbing trend toward eroding democratic values, including land confiscation, limits on building, poor infrastructure, and restrictions on educational material. Ghattas regretted that the “margins of Israeli democracy are getting narrower every day.”
Because of the steadily eroding civil liberties in Israel, Ghattas did not hold out much for Arab Palestinian participation in Israeli elections. A decision to boycott the election may be forthcoming. Ghattas hoped there would be no boycott, but he did not hold out much hope. Although political participation has increased, there is little faith among Palestinian citizens of Israel that anything will change.
The event was well-attended by reporters and broadcast live on c-span: https://www.c-span.org/video/?414345-1/israeli-knesset-member-basel-ghattas-discusses-palestinians-israel