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Draft Knesset bill would bar Arab candidates for premier

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JERUSALEM, Feb. 2 (JTA) — A member of Israel’s governing coalition is proposing a bill that would prevent Israeli Arabs from running for prime minister. The initiative by Knesset member Michael Kleiner of the Gesher Party drew sharp protests from opposition members, who said it was racist. “This is not a proposal appropriate for an enlightened country,” Labor Knesset member Shlomo Ben-Ami told Israel Radio. “It is unlikely that an Arab would ever become prime minister, but the right to run and to vote in elections is a fundamental one.” In December, Azmi Beshara, an Israeli Arab Knesset member, declared his intention to run for prime minister in the next Israeli elections. He admitted at the time that he had little chance of winning, but that his candidacy would advance the interests of Israel’s Arab citizens. Kleiner defended his bill, saying that it was logical that the Jewish state have a Jewish leader. “A person can live here with full civic rights, except for being the prime minister, a role which symbolizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he said. Kleiner’s bill comes on the heels of another proposed law, submitted by Likud Knesset member Reuven Rivlin, which would grant full voting rights to Israelis living abroad. The bill was approved in a preliminary reading last week. One of the Knesset members who voted for it, Benny Alon of the right-wing Moledet Party, said it would significantly increase the number of Jewish voters.

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