Palestinians elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, are being targeted by discriminatory regulations and legislation that undermine their ability to represent and defend the rights of the Palestinian minority population in Israel, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today, ahead of upcoming Israeli elections on September 17.
Elected but restricted: Shrinking space for Palestinian parliamentarians in Israel’s Knesset, details how the right to freedom of expression of Palestinian members of the Knesset (MKs) is threatened by discriminatory legislative changes, proposed bills and Knesset regulations. It also highlights the inflammatory rhetoric used by Israeli government ministers to stigmatize Palestinian MKs and exposes how bills put forward by Palestinian MKs have been unfairly disqualified on discriminatory grounds.
“Palestinian members of the Knesset in Israel are increasingly facing discriminatory attacks. Despite being democratically elected like their Jewish Israeli counterparts, Palestinian MKs are the target of deep-rooted discrimination and undue restrictions that hamstring their ability to speak out in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“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.”
The increasing restrictions faced by Palestinian MKs are part of a pattern of blatant discrimination by Israeli authorities against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Palestinians make up 20% of Israel’s population and although their rights to political participation and representation are recognized by Israeli and international law, in practice they face widespread discrimination, including in terms of citizenship, housing, education and health care.
Israel’s “nation state law” (formally known as Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People), which came into force in 2018, defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, constitutionally entrenching inequality and discrimination against non-Jews. The law grants the right to self-determination exclusively to Jews, establishes that immigration leading to automatic citizenship is exclusive to Jews, promotes the building of Jewish settlements and downgrades the status of Arabic from an official language.
In recent years, Israel authorities have stepped up their divisive rhetoric against minorities and marginalized communities, thereby shrinking the space for those speaking out in favor of Palestinian rights. They have threatened and smeared Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders and civil society organizations, as well as international groups including Amnesty International.
Blatant discrimination in Knesset
Amnesty International has identified a series of legislative amendments, regulations and practices in the Knesset that facilitate discrimination against Palestinian MKs. For example, a 2016 legislative amendment which allows members of the Knesset to expel elected MKs by a majority vote means that MKs who express peaceful political views or opinions that are deemed unacceptable by a majority of MKs can face expulsion from parliament. One Palestinian MK described this amendment as a “sword dangled over our heads by members of the Knesset who oppose us politically”, indicating that it was intended to intimidate Palestinian MKs into silence.
The briefing also highlights the blatantly discriminatory attitudes and divisive rhetoric employed by Israeli politicians towards their Palestinian counterparts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly said that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens… it is the nation-state of the Jewish people only”, and claimed that Palestinian political parties are attempting to eradicate the State of Israel.
Senior Israeli government officials and Israeli MKs regularly use inflammatory and stigmatizing language to describe their Palestinian counterparts in an apparent bid to delegitimize them and their work. Palestinian MKs who have dared to criticize Israeli policies have been labelled as “traitors” and faced calls for them to be “outlawed” or tried for “treason”.
Knesset regulations originally intended to enforce ethical practices have been abused to unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression of Palestinian MKs. Two Palestinian MKs were prevented from traveling abroad with funding from NGOs that were on an Israeli government “blacklist” due to a 2018 amendment to the Knesset’s ethics rules barring travel if the trip is funded by a body “calling for a boycott of the State of Israel”. While Amnesty International does not call for or endorse specific boycotts, it considers the right to call for or participate in a boycott to be a form of free expression that must be respected and protected by the authorities.
Amnesty International’s briefing also reveals that, since 2011, at least four bills related to Palestinians’ rights, including their right to participate in public life, have been disqualified before even reaching discussion in parliament.
“The Israeli Knesset must urgently repeal or amend all legislation that facilitates discrimination against Palestinian MKs and other Palestinian citizens of Israel, starting with the ‘nation state law’,” said Saleh Higazi.
“Israeli authorities must end the discriminatory restrictions against Palestinian MKs and ensure their right to freedom of expression is upheld. They must also stop using inflammatory rhetoric which ostracizes elected representatives advocating for human rights and equality, and stirs hostility towards Palestinians more generally.”