As right-wingers dominate the Knesset, Arab citizens of Israel say institutional discrimination is getting worse.
The statement highlighted a fundamental tension between democratic freedom in Israel, and the need to maintain its Jewish character. Thwarting harm to that character has been extrapolated to require controls on Israel's Arab minority in many departments of society, from education to the right of dissent. The need to ensure Jewish demographic and institutional domination has prompted a raft of controversial policies and practises.
The conflict is most revealing at the level of political representation. Israel can point to the presence of 14 Arab Knesset members out of 120 as evidence of its civil rights credentials. Proportionally this is a reasonably fair reflection of a minority that accounts for 18 per cent of Israel's population; given that the Arab community habitually votes in lower numbers.
In practise, the mandate to represent Arab concerns dictates that they work against - rather than with - the rest of parliament. Knesset Member Haneen Zouabi of the Balad party is open about her role being fundamentally oppositional. "I was elected to speak for those who voted for me, not to reinforce the Zionist consensus," she says. "My role is to represent injustice and to make it more visible." Zouabi has long argued against the legitimacy of a Jewish state for allowing "institutionalised discrimination", instead favouring "a bi-national state not based on ethnicity".
She has suffered for her beliefs. After participating in the 2010 Gaza flotilla, aimed at breaking the Israeli siege, a seven to one majority voted to strip her of parliamentary privileges. Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon called for her to be tried for treason, and there were attempts to disqualify her party from elections. The hostility was so great that Zouabi was forced to travel with an armed escort. A year later she remains a pariah in parliament, branded a traitor and a terrorist-sympathiser.
Exiling civil rights
Others have suffered more. Azmi Bishara, also of the Balad party, was the leading voice of the Arab civil rights campaign. Despite attempts to disqualify him, Bishara became the first Arab citizen to run for the office of Prime Minister. Throughout his career Bishara faced numerous investigations from the Shin Bet. He was forced to resign in 2007, and went into exile abroad, in the wake of spurious charges of espionage.
Such attacks on Arab politicians are not exceptional, and some have been more serious than political expulsion. A 2002 report from the Human Rights Association of Nazareth documented nine cases of Arab Knesset Members being assaulted by security services over the preceding two years, seven of whom were hospitalised. In addition, the state had opened 25 criminal investigations against Arab Knesset Members over the same time period.
In recent years, the Jewish majority in the Knesset have been pushing for a decisive end to the debate over the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was able to pass a bill last year requiring non-Jewish immigrants to take a loyalty oath to a Jewish state, and is seeking to make the oath mandatory for all Knesset members.
The most significant effect of the oath is to enhance Jewish demographic supremacy. It places a fresh barrier in the path of Palestinian refugees' historic right of return, as enshrined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, effectively terminating their claims to former homes.
By contrast, the Law of Return grants any Jew the right to make their homes in Israel without challenge. The law is supplemented by aggressive marketing campaigns in the US and other nations with large Jewish populations, often through emotive appeals to religious solidarity. Naturalising diaspora Jews has been made a formality and is often granted within 48 hours, even to those with tenuous claims to Jewish ancestry or citizens from hostile nations. Financial incentives are also offered; as of 2007, Iranian Jews making Aliyah, the so-called "return" to Israel, are entitled to a payment of $5000.