By Mick Krever, CNN
With a controversial nationhood bill on hold and the governing coalition wobbling, a prominent Arab-Israeli politician decried what he described as “inflammatory declarations and bills” aimed at gaining right-wing votes.
“There are two or three pyromaniacs in the Israeli cabinet,” Ahmad Tibi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
“The nationality bill is totally proof of what I said during the last decades: that in Israel, Israel is democratic towards Jews and Jewish towards Arabs.”
A proposed bill, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, passed a hurdle when it was approved by Israel’s cabinet during a testy meeting last week.
It would enshrine Jewish teachings as the basis of the Israeli legal system and would give Arab Israelis individual rights, but not the “national” rights Jewish Israelis would have.
“Jewish and democratic, the definition of the State of Israel for the last thirty years, is an oxymoron,” Tibi said. “You cannot be democratic, believing in equality between all citizens, and define yourself as an ethnic definition, ‘Jewish.’”
As members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, former security chiefs, and his own attorney general – not to mention the country’s 20% Arab population – the possibility was raised that the Prime Minister’s already rickety coalition could collapse, and a Knesset vote was delayed while a more palatable version could be drafted.
A former communications director for Prime Minster Netanyahu, Yoaz Hendel, admitted that there politics were involved in the push for the bill, but said that there was “a real need for Israel to have [a] constitution.”
“This is what this law is trying to do – to create a constitution.”
The bill, he said, was created to maintain Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature.
“I understand that there are people that would like to see another Israel, which is not Jewish, only democratic. But this is the only Jewish state in the world, and we would like to keep it like this.”
When the cabinet approved the bill last Sunday, Uzi Landau – Israel’s Minister of Tourism and a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party – hailed the measure.
"It's a natural basic law,” Landau said, “that is saying what is clear to every country – that Israel is Jewish and democratic as France is French and democratic, and Britain is British and democratic; that there is an identity to a country while at the same time all of the rights of all of the citizens of all minorities are fully respected."
“France is French and democratic; it is not Christian and democratic,” Tibi responded. “Israel should be democratic. Not Jewish and democratic. I will not accept at any case that he will be superior to me because he is ‘Uzi’ and I am ‘Ahmad.’”
“There is a huge gap and discrimination between Jews and Arabs – land allocation, budgets, education, employment – all fields of life. We are struggling in order to be equal, and we are not.”
“We are the indigenous people. We [did] not come to Israel as immigrants by plane or ship. We were born there, Christiane. And we would like to be equal and will never, never, never accept any superiority [of] any Israeli Jew just because he is Jew and I am Arab Palestinian.”