Amnesty International is calling out the discriminatory regulations taken out on Palestinian members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, for undermining “their ability to represent and defend the rights of the Israeli Arabic minority population in Israel.”
In a new report published on Wednesday, the human rights organization details how Palestinian MKs, unlike their Jewish counterparts, face systemic discrimination in the form of Knesset regulations, legislative changes, and bill proposals aimed at silencing them.
The report comes just two weeks before Israel heads into its general election, during which the Joint List of Arab parties in Israel are poised to win 10-12 seats — making them the third largest party in Israel.
“Israeli Arabic members of the Knesset in Israel are increasingly facing discriminatory attacks,” Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, said in the report.
“Despite being democratically elected like their Jewish Israeli counterparts, Israeli Arabic MKs are the target of deep-rooted discrimination and undue restrictions that hamstring their ability to speak out in defence of the rights of the Israeli Arabic people,” Higazi said.
The report highlights how, more often than not, bills concerning the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel — who make up 20% of the population — never even make it to the Knesset floor.
Since 2011, at least four bills concerning Palestinian rights in Israel, including their right to participate in public life, were disqualified before even reaching discussion in parliament.
In 2016, the Knesset passed a legislative amendment that allows members of parliament to be expelled by a majority vote, which directly targets “MKs who express peaceful political views or opinions that are deemed unacceptable by a majority of MKs,” Amnesty International said.
The report quoted one Palestinian lawmaker who described the amendment as a “sword dangled over our heads by members of the Knesset who oppose us politically.”
Last year, Israel passed the widely condemned Nation-State Law, which stated that Israel was “nation state of the Jewish people,” and that Jews have the “exclusive” right to self-determination in the country.
“The Israeli Knesset must urgently repeal or amend all legislation that facilitates discrimination against Israeli Arabic MKs and other Israeli Arabic citizens of Israel, starting with the ‘nation state law’,” Higazi said.
In addition to legislative measures taken against them, Palestinian lawmakers are forced to endure “discriminatory attitudes and divisive rhetoric” employed against them by their Israeli counterparts.
Palestinian lawmakers who openly criticize Israeli policies have been called “traitors”, with their Israeli counterparts calling on them to be outlawed and tried for treason, the report states.
“Israeli authorities must end the discriminatory restrictions against Israeli Arabic MKs and ensure their right to freedom of expression is upheld,” Higazi said in the report.
“They must also stop using inflammatory rhetoric which ostracizes elected representatives advocating for human rights and equality and stirs hostility towards Israeli Arabic s more generally,” he continued.
“With Israel systematically committing human rights violations against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it is vital that Palestinian voices in parliament are heard, considered and respected.”