Arab lawmaker from Zionist Union quits Knesset over nation-state law

Zouheir Bahloul hands in resignation 3 months after saying he could not sit in a parliament that passed discriminatory laws; he earned over NIS 100,000 during Knesset recess

Zouheir Bahloul (R) handing his resignation letter from the Knesset to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, October 16, 2018. (Knesset)

Zionist Union member Zouheir Bahloul formally resigned from the Knesset on Tuesday, some three months after he announced he would step down as an MK in protest of the recently passed nation-state bill, which he said officially discriminates against Israel’s Arab minority.

The Arab Israeli lawmaker met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to present his letter of resignation, a day after the parliament returned from a three-month summer recess.

Bahloul announced his resignation on live television during a July interview with Hadashot news following the passage of what he described as a series of “racist and extreme” laws, notably the nation-state law which was approved by the Knesset days earlier.

“I can’t sit on the fence, I will need to give an answer to my grandchildren who will ask me what I did and say, ‘I resigned because of this harsh law that should have brought all the Israelis out onto the barricades and we wonder why it did not,’” Zouheir Bahloul told the channel at the time.

Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Asked if his resignation was not too drastic, Bahloul, a popular former sports commentator, said that “the drastic act was the legislation of thenation-state law that makes the Arab population officially, constitutionally outside the realms of equality in Israel.”

Bahloul offered no further explanation after his Tuesday meeting with Edelstein.

He also declined to comment on why he chose to formally resign only after the Knesset recess, a move that saw him rake in more than NIS 100,000 ($27,000) in taxpayer money over the break, based on the NIS 41,432  ($11,000) monthly salary for an MK.

The nation-state bill — which for the first time enshrined Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” and determined “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

Israeli Druze leaders, including three Knesset members, have petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Jewish nation-state legislation, saying it was an “extreme” act that discriminates against the country’s minorities. On Sunday they filed a proposed amendment to the law that recognizes the Druze community’s “unique contribution to Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with Sheikh Muafak Tariff, spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze community, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (L), and other Druze leaders at his office in Jerusalem to discuss the nation-state law on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The nation-state law, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.

The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance, and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Bahloul will be replaced by former MK Moshe Mizrahi, who served as commander of the National Police Unit for Serious and International Crimes before he was elected to the Knesset in 2013. He lost his seat in the 2015 elections.


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