The Israeli parliament approved a pair of laws this week that critics said were discriminatory and aimed against the country’s Arab minority.
The first law denies state funding to any municipality that commemorates Israel’s 1948 creation as the “nakba,” or “catastrophe.” Palestinians use the term to describe their defeat and exile in the war that surrounded Israel’s founding.
The second law grants small communities the authority to reject admission to applicants that are perceived as not fitting into their social fabric.
The bills passed by a large majority after a heated debate in parliament, led by Arab lawmakers who called them racist.
Neither piece of legislation singles out Arabs explicitly, but they are widely believed to target a minority that makes up roughly one-fifth of Israel’s 7.7 million people.
The bills were sponsored by the hard-line nationalist party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has long been calling for aggressive action against what he perceives as the disloyalty of Israeli Arabs. In the past, Lieberman pushed legislation that would have required all citizens, including Arabs, to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state and wanted anyone refusing to do so to be stripped of citizenship. The Cabinet rejected that proposal.
Many Israeli Arabs openly identify with the Palestinians, and in recent years, a small number of Israeli Arabs have been charged with spying for Israel’s Arab enemies.
“There is no other normal country that funds events that equate its establishment to a catastrophe,” Lieberman said in a statement. “The duty of a democracy is to defend against those that want to harm it.”
The new laws, he said, restored “sanity” to Israel.
The Abraham Fund, a group that promotes coexistence between Israeli Jews and Arabs, called the laws unconstitutional and has petitioned the court against them.
“This law establishes a mechanism of ethnic segregation between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel,” it said in a statement.
Unlike their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel’s Arabs are citizens, with the right to vote, travel freely and collect social benefits. But they have long claimed to suffer from discrimination and second-class status.
Arab lawmaker Ibrahim Sarsur said that with the “nakba” law “Israelis are trying simply to delete the memory of the Palestinian people.”
Hardline Jewish lawmaker Arieh Eldad countered that Arabs can mark the occasion on their own dime.
“They will not teach and incite against the state of Israel as a Jewish democratic state with my money,” he said. “They can raise their own money, they can do it free of charge, they can do whatever they want.”