The Knesset voted down today, by a margin of 71-38, the Basic Law: Equality bill, tabled by MK Mossi Raz (Meretz). The text of the bill was clear and concise: “The State of Israel shall maintain equal political rights amongst all its citizens, without any difference between religions, race and sex.” This is a direct quote from Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Following the resignation of Defense Minister Lieberman a few weeks back, the governing coalition has a razor-thin margin of one vote: it controls 61 one votes out of 120. However, the coalition enjoyed the support of Yesh Atid, led by Israel’s Trump wannabe, Yair Lapid. Its eleven votes are unlikely to have delivered victory to the opposition, however, as many members of the Zionist Camp fled the hall before the vote.
Despite one the greatest political cons in history – “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” – Israeli law never recognized equality between citizens. An attempt to enter an equality clause to the Human Dignity and Freedom Basic Law, back in 1992, failed – mostly due to the opposition of the religious parties. The Israeli Supreme Court, doubling as the country’s High Court of Justice, found – or, rather, invented – emanations of equality in Israel’s Basic Laws; doing so often required the court to fall back on the equality clause of the Declaration of Independence, claiming it was the expressed will of the Founders.
Doing so after today’s vote will require extraordinary powers of judicial juggling. And the court, which was never that great shining light its supporters portray it (see, for damning example after another, Michael Sfard’s superb “The Wall and the Gate”) is becoming less emboldened to face the government.
Following the tumult of the Nation State Law, when the Druze filled the streets in protest – claiming, correctly, the law made them second class citizens – Netanyahu promised them he’d grant them an exemption somehow. Perhaps he’d declare them honorary Jews. Today, Netanyahu closed the gate of equality before them.
He did so with the votes not only of his ultra-nationalist coalition, but also with those of Lapid, whose party claims to be a center party while serving as a gateway drug to the extreme right. And by the absent votes of the frightened members of Labour. Those 71 votes represent the hard core of practical Zionism – Zionism as it is, not as it may be – who decided Israel would be a Jewish country and not a democratic one.
The Knesset told 20% of the country’s citizens that it would demand their loyalty, but would not grant them equality. They would have second class citizenship, dependent on the whim of the Jewish majority. Next time the government of Israel tells you it “shares values” with the US, remember what that value is: 3/5 of personhood.