Chaired by MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, two members of the Knesset were present to present their positions with MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen from the Joint List and MK Yaakov Perry from Yesh Atid. The hearing was initiated by the Mossawa Center in cooperation with elected representatives of the Arab community.
The position of the Arab public was presented by Jabareen who underlined Israel’s neglect of Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Jabareen also reminded attendees of Israel’s part in the adoption of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that, whilst not legally binding, aims to work towards the elimination of human rights abuses towards indigenous communities. The Arab community in Israel - 20% of the overall population - is both a national minority of Israel and a native population. Jabareen described four primary levels of exclusion of the Arab community in Israel: formal de jure exclusion; the discriminatory effects of neutral laws that have an adverse impact on the Arab community directly; material (socio-economic) discrimination; and societal discrimination that stems from hate speech and racism. The lack of Arab members involved in high-level decision making was stated as a major issue that limits efforts to resolve this exclusion. This is seen with the current state administration led by Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud majority that exploits its numerical advantage to undermine minority rights and endorse anti-democratic legislation that continues to threaten the position of the Arab community’s future in Israel. At this point, discussions turned towards the pernicious consequences of the Jewish Nation-State Bill, the full analysis of which can be found with our position paper here.
In his response, Perry, ex-Head of the Israeli secret service and member of the opposition, described the Subcommittee’s discussion of Arab rights as “odd” - claiming the issue to be one of national politics - despite the importance of Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. This agreement defines the terms of Israel’s relationship with the EU and its commitment to “respect for human rights and democratic principles” of all its citizens, guiding both “their internal and international policy”. Parry acknowledged the gaps between the Jewish and Arab populations in Israel that he claimed the country continues to address, referencing Decision 922, claiming that it allocates NIS 15 billion specifically to the Arab community. Since 2015, the Mossawa Center has followed the progress of the decision and has showed that the amount is in fact less than 9.5 billion over five years. The Israeli state budget is more than 470 billion NIS. The Mossawa Center has repeatedly acknowledged a lack of adequate implementation of these funds for the Arab community and alarming disparities in the economic stability of the Arab and Jewish communities.
With regard to the current final rounds of voting on the Jewish Nation-State Bill, Perry adopted a conciliatory tone, assuring Jabareen and other attendees that the legislation has not yet been finalised, and that whilst he supports the bill for stating that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, he will remain very attentive to its progress and will oppose any part of the legislation that diminishes the rights of Arab citizens. It remains to be seen whether the risks posed by the current positions adopted by the bill will be amended before it is passed.
Parry also importantly noted the lack of dialogue between Arab and Jewish communities, with a lack of linguistic comprehension - 69% of Arabs in Israel are fluent in Hebrew, whilst only 6% of Jews have any knowledge of Arabic - preventing the Jewish community from engaging with the Arab community and its issues. He also acknowledged that much more must be done to tackle the low level of employment amongst Arab women in Israel. Perhaps most startling was Parry’s claim that if comparing the situation of the Arab community in Israel to that of surrounding countries, Israel is a “paradise”. This was swiftly rebuked by Jabareen, who responded that such a statement may be suitable for some members of the Jewish community in Israel but certainly not for its Arab minority community. Such a statement comes just days after Arab MKs were ejected from the Knesset for protesting the appearance of the US Vice President Mike Pence and the decision of the Trump administration to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without any kind of consultation with members of the Arab community.
Both MKs agreed that a delegation from the EU should come to Israel to understand more clearly the current political situation in Israel and its consequences for the Arab Palestinian community. The Mossawa Center is acting to insure that international actors involved in Israel-Palestine are made aware of the current policies that aim to undermine the status of the Arab community and are supported by settlers and extreme-right parties in Israel. These groups attempt to complicate the conflict with actions that lead to violence between the Arab community and state law enforcement.
The hearing can be watched here (from 1:06:00 onwards).