Palestinian member of Israeli Knesset proposes new “basic law” for Israel inspired by Canadian multiculturalism

jabardeen smile

Dr. Yousef Jabareen is an elected Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (or Parliament). He visited Canada in 2016 to better understand Canada’s approach to minority issues. He has proposed a new “basic law” for Israel, in part inspired by Canada’s policy of multiculturalism. Many Jewish Israeli MK’s are outraged by the idea of making all Israel’s citizens equal before the law. Read more.

After spending a week on a fact-finding tour in Canada in 2016, Yousef Jabareen wrote an op ed in the Toronto Star entitled “What Israel can learn from Canada“. In it, he explained that he had examined carefully Canada’s multicultural approach to treatment of its minorities – including Quebec and its indigenous minorities. “Many Canadians may not think Canada is perfect, but viewed from the perspective of a Palestinian citizen of Israel, your record in recognizing and overcoming discrimination and inequality looks pretty good. It should definitely be exported, he said.”

Jabareen and Algebra

Jabareen (R) meets in Ottawa with then Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Omar Alghabra (L)

On returning to his duties in Israel, Dr. Jabareen decided to try to do just that. On behalf of the Arab Joint List (a small group of mostly Arab members of Knesset) he recently introduced a bill entitled “Basic Law: Israel – A democratic, multicultural and egalitarian state”.

It was the Joint List’s response to a “Jewish nation-state bill” currently is under consideration by the Knesset. The Jewish nation-state bill, which is strongly backed by  the government, would have constitutional weight declaring Israel to be the “nation-state of the Jewish people”.  It would, among other things, enshrine Hebrew as the only official language, permit the creation and protection of “Jewish only communities’, and direct the Supreme Court to refer to “Jewish tradition’ in rendering some decisions.

Opposition to the “Jewish nation state bill” has been limited to a few journalists and a handful of Israeli parliamentarians. “Israel’s ‘nation-state’ law must be stopped – “the only way to preserve a democratic Israel is to enshrine equality among all its citizens in law,” ran an editorial in Haaretz when the bill was introduced last May. But it seems likely to breeze through the Knesset sometime this year.

A counter proposal based on Canadian style equality and multiculturalism

In the “equality” bill we have proposed, instead of ethnic superiority for Jews, we propose enlightened ideas of equal citizenship and significant multiculturalism for all citizens.”

– Yousef Jabareen, Palestinian member of Israeli parliament

The Jabareen bill calls for Israel to be “a democratic and egalitarian state based on values of human dignity, liberty and equality.” The bill also says Israel should be seen as the state of all its citizens, Jewish and Arab, and that its resources and institutions will be used equally for all citizens.

When I was in Canada‘,” notes Jabareen, “I saw that English and French are both official languages, and both can be used equally in all branches of government”. 

Our demographic situation in Israel has some parallels with Canada”, he continued, “Twenty per cent of Israel’s population is Arab speaking. Hebrew and Arabic should both be both official languages that can be used equally in all three branches of government in Israel.

In addition, his draft bill states that Arabs will have “appropriate representation” in all government institutions.”

Widespread outrage at the idea of legal equality for all citizens of Israel

Jabareen’s bill, which aims for Canadian style “equality”, has caused outrage among many of Israel’s Jewish MK’s. Likud MK Nurit Koren called the bill “science fiction.” Other MK’s have nicknamed it the “Palestinian nation state bill”, apparently confusing equality with domination.

Knesset Interior Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) called on Jabareen to resign from the Knesset, accusing him of acting like a part of the Palestinian Authority. “This is incomparably disrespectful. (…) he should quit and run in Gaza,” Kisch stated.

Jabareen responded to the criticism, saying that Likud MKs have started an “incitement campaign” against him and the other members of the “Joint list”.

To many Jewish Israelis, the prospect of equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel is very threatening”,

– Yousef Jabareen, Palestinian member of Israel Knesset

To many Israeli Jews, the prospect of equality is very threatening”, noted Jabareen. “But equality is supported by the whole world. No democracy without equality. It must eventually come to Israel, too.”

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25 comments

  1. Jabareen has outlined the first step of the only possible path to peace that I can see. Unfortunately, confusing equality with domination, is a very common mental problem. Even here in Canada, I have met people who believe that forbidding discrimination against Muslims would be the first step towards imposing their vision of “Sharia Law”.

  2. The Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine should get as close as possible to equal protection under the law and therefore democracy in the treatment of all their citizens and minorities, taking into account objectives and priorities in their constitutions to Jews and Palestinians respectively.. Bilngualism (Hebrew and Arabic) and recognition of multiculturalism would also be useful to instill in each entity. Any internationalization of the holy sites should be as open and available to all in legal theory. Since Mr. Jabareen received his inspiration from Canada, maybe Canada could complement its advice on federalism to Iraq with a concerted effort on equality under the law in Israel and Palestine.

    1. Hey George, thanks for your always thoughtful and sincere comments. I believe you are making a mistaken parallel between the “Jewish state” of Israel and a proposed “Arab state”. A Jewish state means, as Jabareen shows that some citizens (i.e. Jews) are in a privileged position. The Palestinian position has never been for a “Muslim” state which would be equivalently unjust for its non Muslim citizens. I don’t think even Hamas proposes that (subject to correction by anyone who knows.)

      1. Good point Peter. In referring to the “Jewish State of Israel” sort of conceding this title to them to get around their insistence that Israel must be recognized as such and the likely addition to the basic law. But this in no way detracts from the obligation to ensure equality before the law for all their citizens. Similarly the Arab state of Palestine would have to grant equality to all its citizens including Jews continuing to live there. Such an equality approach does not preclude affirmative action for special parts of the internal population as is comnon in the USA and Canada, but would hopefully preclude violations of refugee law like the mass deportation of 40,000 Africans which Israel is undertaking now. Of course common laws for the treatment of minorities in both Israel and Palestine could be a basis for cooperation and collaboration leading to some kind of binational state if they wished to pursue this in the future.

  3. Israel should leave Palestine, they are a cancer in the middle east and should never of been given that land.

    1. Hey Nancy, I have travelled all around Israel/Palestine and talked to dozens of people. Perhaps hundreds. While most think that the creation of Israel was unjust, only one Palestinian I have talked to ever suggested that the Israelis who live now in Israel should leave. There is a very broad consensus that the solution will require people agreeing to get along.

  4. Wrt. The last posting

    That’s the funny thing about ‘rule of law’. It obscures the fact that the laws themselves are simply literal expressions of bias and privilege written by the winners. In “handmaid’s tale” this was really clearly expressed. And you can see why the Israeli Jews would fear an equitable rule of law for “ALL” citizens or residents of the country.

    The Nazi’s too rewrote the rule of law to suite them. And so it goes. And now we have Trump hinting at rewriting their ‘rules of law’ for example to permit prosecution of media outlets that carry stories that sully his reputation. Not that really there is any reputation left.

    We did (and are still doing) the same thing with the native people of Canada. And again it is the definition of “Bullshit” as defined by Harry Frankfurt at Princeton. We all believe in the ‘rule of law’ without for a moment considering the goal of people who wrote the laws. I.e. “how can we get what we want while preventing others from getting what they want?”. It’s the context that exposed the bullshit. And hence we are all Bullshit artists in our own way.

  5. Bravo to Mr. Jabareen for the courage to table this potential new law in the Israeli Knesset…it takes a tremendous amount of bravery in such a hostile environment for him. This is also an act of genius because how can one group of citizens seriously argue against the same democratic rights for others as you have! I agree with Dr. Parnass above and I quote:

    “Jabareen has outlined the first step of the only possible path to peace that I can see.’

    He has challenged his fellow Jewish parliamentarians in a democratic manner …and how they respond tells us much about the truth behind their resistance. History is one thing however we cannot resolve this most complex challenge by looking backwards, only by looking forwards and initiating strategies that, if implemented, will move this seemingly intransigent issue towards some reasonable resolution for both peoples. Surely that is the best outcome we can hope for.

    Peter, please pass my compliments on to Mr. Jabareen…I’m quite impressed!

  6. Hi – Canada Talks Israel/Palestine seems like a legitimate forum for discussion. This post is a good-news and flattering story for Canadians (who want the world to look like their own). Israel is the only Jewish state in the world. Does Yousef Jabareen’s proposal undermine that? The context is not Europe or America (which includes Canada) – it is Palestine (the Roman name for Judea and Samaria). Please post the actual proposal.

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    1. Hey sixmillion, thanks for your question/comment. Jabareen’s bill would make all citizens of Israel equal. There would no longer be legal preference for Jewish citizens of Israel in housing, employment, education, etc. However, as I understand it, Hebrew would still be an official language.

      I do not have the actual proposal as bills before the Israeli Knesset have to be submitted in Hebrew. Unlike Canada, the government does not automatically provide translation into Arabic, even though officially Arabic is an official language in Israel. I have relied mostly on English language Israeli papers for my information. Perhaps you could write to the speaker of the Knesset to ask if they have a version in English. IF so, please feel free to post it in a further comment.

      1. You can not quote that bill for a very simple reason : the bill was never proposed, never submited and probably was never written

        The United Arab Party is made out of three smaller parties, the party for which Jabareen was elected “Hadash “ published a press release that Jabareen is working on that proposal.

        That’s all.

        Please keep us updated when (and if ) Jabareen completes that proposal, if his friends at the United Arab Party will let him submit it as a bill

      2. Hey Ahik, you are in luck!! I wrote Jabareen to clarify. It seems you were misinformed.

        Here is his response. “All members of the Joint List have signed the bill along with two members from Meretz :Mossi Raz and Essawi Friej. I first published the bill to ask MK to join it. The official submission is technical. I guess will be submitted formally tomorrow.”

    2. Sixmillionstitches,\

      You write ” the only Jewish state in the world” as if you believe that every ethnic or religious group is entitled to a state of its own. There are countless ethnic and religious groups in this world that do not have a state of their own. The Roma, Kurds, and Tutsi come to mind immediately and there are many more. What we Jews required was a state where we could practice our religious and cultural traditions freely and in peace. We did not have to be the dominant group in a state to achieve that. In fact, the effort to establish an ethnically biased state on land that others have inhabited has proven counterproductive. There is no peace for anyone in Israel/Palestine.

  7. You write “Many Jewish Israeli MK’s are outraged by the idea of making all Israel’s citizens equal before the law.”

    This is not a fair statement, the two MK that you quoted Kisch and Koren are both Likud back benchers for whom the 20’th parliament was the first and last Parliament
    They were offended because Jabareen said he would like to add Palestinian Muslim symbols to the flag, the anthem and the emblem of Israel, not because of “the idea of making all Israel’s citizens equal before the law.”

    1. Hey Ahik, I have a question for you as a citizen of both Israel and Canada. Do you agree with this bill which would mandate equality for all Israel’s citizens, Jewish or not (as in Canada), or would you oppose it? If so, why?

      1. As I said before, neither me nor you knowes exactly what’s in that bill, but I absolutely, and with all my heart, support equality between the citizens of Israel regardless of whether they are Jewish or not.

        I don’t think that putting a crescent on the Israeli flag or adding Arabic verses to the anthem is what Israel needs right now, I do believe that phasing out the law or return for Jews and abolishing the JNF are worthy goals, I doubt that Jabareen is tackling these issues in his proposed bill

      2. Hey Ahik, thanks for your commentary. I think the bill will be published soon, so you can see exactly what is in it.

        I am happy to hear that you support equality between all the citizens of Israel, whether they are Jewish or not.

        I don’t think you should underestimate the importance of symbols however. Here in Canada we had a huge debate over our flag in the ’60s. The old flag was derived from British colonialism, and many people, and especially many French Canadians found it did not reflect them. We changed it to get our well known “maple leaf flag”. We have also had a smaller debate about some of the words in our national anthem which seemed to exclude, or secondarize women. Some might have argued that changing the words to our national anthem is much less important than some other pressing issues. But the dominant feeling in Canadais that our national symbols should reflect all our citizens. There is still work to be done, but we are making progress.

      3. Are you familiar with the verse in our anthem : “Il sait porter la croix!” ?
        We may want to add a crescent next to the cross, wouldn’t you think?

        This is exactly what MK Jabareen law is about, adding crescent to the flag and Palestinian to the anthem

      4. Hey Ahik, of course i am aware of it. And there is also that issue of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly. These symbols of Canada/quebec’s Christian past are problematic and inconsistent with a secular democracy. we also have Catholic schools too. These are not big issues for most Canadians, but they will eventually have to be dealt with.

        I dont know how Israel will deal with its Jewish origins, so that all its citizens – Jewish, Christian and Muslim can be equally comfortable with your symbols. That will be an important, and difficult, debate.

        Take the Star of David off the Israeli flag would be one way. Or, another would be to ADD both a cross and a crescent. Perhaps other options, too. But if Israel wants to be a “normal” nation, it will have to do something like that.

      5. Hey Ahik, of course i am aware of it. And there is also that issue of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly. These symbols of Canada/Quebec’s Christian past are problematic and inconsistent with a secular democracy. we also have Catholic schools too. These are not big issues for most Canadians, but they will eventually have to be dealt with.

        I don’t know how Israel will deal with its Jewish origins, so that all its citizens – Jewish, Christian and Muslim can be equally comfortable with your symbols. That will be an important, and difficult, debate.

        Take the Star of David off the Israeli flag?? That would be one way. Or, another would be to ADD both a cross and a crescent. Perhaps other options, too. But if Israel wants to be a “normal” nation, it will have to do something like that.

  8. Sweden,Norway, England, Switzerland and Denmark are all “normal nations” with the cross on their flag
    Meny nations has a crescent on their flag too.
    why is is the Star of David the only symbol that can not be on the flag of a “normal nation” ?

    1. Hey Ahik,
      I’m not sure if you are really unclear about this, or just like arguing.

      All the countries you mention come from centuries of a deeply Christian cultural background. In the past, those crosses represented the domination of Christianity over other religions. (As did the Islamic crescent in many Muslim countries). But Sweden, Norway, etc. are no longer Christian States. That cross is a leftover. Today everyone is legally equal – Muslim, christian, Jew and non believer).

      Israel is a Jewish State in which Jews today have rights others do not have. The Star of David on the Israeli flag is there to symbolize the dominance of Judaism. If that practical, concrete domination were to end, and if Israel were to become a democratic state like Norway, Canada, etc., I don’t know how concerned its Palestinian citizens would be about the flag. But that is not my call.

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