Arab lawmaker resigns in protest of Israel’s new nation-state law
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Arab lawmaker resigns in protest of Israel’s new nation-state law

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen in the Israeli parliament during a plenum session, March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli lawmaker resigned from Knesset in protest of the nation-state law.

Zouheir Bahloul of the Zionist Union announced his resignation on Saturday during a live appearance on Israel’s “Meet the Press” television show.

“The law oppresses me and oppresses the population that sent me to the Knesset,” he said during his announcement.

“The government submits the Knesset to its whims. The Knesset has become a rubber stamp of exceptional and racist legislation. I will run from it as one runs from raging fire,” he said.  “I was burned, I cannot remain silent anymore, and it’s better for me to escape before this ship sinks. It may still remain above water, but I won’t be on it.”

He said he would work for change from outside the government. “I will be one of the founders of the popular movement that is supposed to rise in this country. This will be a popular movement of Arabs and Jews who will prove that eventually, in spite of Netanyahu and his friends’ opposition, we can live here together and direct this ship to other places,”

The Labor Party, one of the two parties that makes up the Zionist Union, said in a statement that it was “sorry to hear” about Bahloul’s decision to resign.

“The Nationality Law is a kick in the head to over one fifth of the population of Israel—which is a Jewish country with or without it. When we return to the government, we will amend this law as well and add what should’ve been obvious—the word ‘equality.'”

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay also said the party will work to make sure there is appropriate Arab representation in the Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met with the Druze local council heads as part of his ongoing talks with Druze community leaders in the wake of the approval of the nationality law.

“There are unending attempts to rescind the definition of the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. We legislated the Nation-State Law in order to ensure that Israel will remain the national state of our people – this is the purpose of the state’s existence. The law does not detract at all from the individual rights of anybody. It is designed to make the necessary legal balance, the time for which has come, in order to ensure the character of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told them.

“You are describing genuine feelings and we must find a solution. I will continue [holding] consultations,” he also said, and announced the establishment of a team to submit recommendations “for actions that will strengthen the important ties between us.”

Netanyahu also defended the law Sunday morning at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, with full equal rights for all of its citizens. This is the meaning of the words ‘a Jewish and democratic state’,” he said. “Over decades the opposition has preached to us that we must withdraw to the 1967 lines in order to ensure that Israel remains the national state of the Jewish people in which there is a Jewish majority in the state. Then suddenly when we pass a basic law to ensure exactly this, the left cries out in protest? What hypocrisy.”

“The Israeli left must search within itself. It needs to ask itself why the basic term Zionism, ‘a Jewish national state of the Jewish people in its land’, has become a rude term for it, a rude word, a principle that one should be ashamed of. We are not ashamed of Zionism. We are proud of our state, that it is a national home for the Jewish people, which strictly upholds – in a manner that is without peer – the individual rights of all its citizens,” he also said.