A Joint List faction this week announced that it will boycott Israel’s new parliamentary session in protest of the controversial Nation State law passed in July.
The four Members of Knesset (MKs) represent the National Democratic Union faction – often known as Balad – which itself forms part of the Joint List political alliance. The Joint List is comprised of the four Arab-dominated parties in the Knesset, including Hadash, the United Arab List and Ta’al.
Balad announced that it would boycott all sessions of the Knesset during the first month of the winter session, which opened on Sunday. During this time the MKs will not attend the Knesset plenum or committees, where proposed legislation is decided, debates are held and parliamentary questions take place, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The Balad MKs explained their decision in a statement, writing:
We consider our parliamentary representation as a tool of struggle […] We don’t want [serving in the Knesset] to be nothing but a formalistic ritual, that will not allow us to influence the policies aimed against us, nor the deepening fascism and the establishment of a homeland that does not recognise the rights of its indigenous Palestinian population.
The MKs were referring to the so-called Nation State Law passed by the Knesset in July. The law ruled that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.” The law also stripped Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a “special status” that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions.
The Nation State Law was met with anger from many of Israel’s minority communities – who make up some 24 per cent of the country’s population – particularly from Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Druze community. Earlier in October, Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories (oPt) held a general strike in protest against the law. Chair of the Joint List, Hassan Jabareen, said that the Nation State Law “turns [Palestinian citizens of Israel] into second and third class citizens” and therefore the strike aimed to send “a message of opposition to the continued discrimination and racism towards the Arab public […] We were born in this country and will fight for national equality”.
Israel clamped down on the general strike violently, firing tear gas and rubber-bullets at protesters and leaving hundreds wounded. In the besieged Gaza Strip 93 people were left injured by Israeli naval forces, while in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron in the occupied West Bank multiple incidents of shootings were reported.
The four MKs involved in the boycott – Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi, Jourma Azbarga and new MK Neven Abu Rahmoun – have lobbied for initiatives in support of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the past but are often penalised for doing so. In June the Joint List submitted a bill calling for Israel to be defined as a “state of all its citizens” but it was stopped before it reached the Knesset floor. The quashing of the bill represented the first time proposed legislation had been thrown out before being discussed in the last two Knesset terms. Zoabi in particular has often been penalised, with Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for her to be dismissed after he accused her of “promot[ing] terror against IDF soldiers and citizens of Israel”.