Prof. Frances Raday, a member of Zulat’s Steering Committee, participated in a discussion in the Knesset Constitution Committee entitled “The Right to Equality: A Key Right.” Prof. Raday presented Zulat’s position paper for anchoring the principle of equality in legislation.
Zulat supports the position that the right to equality must be enshrined in a separate Basic Law and not as an amendment to an existing one. However, since dozens of bills submitted to this effect have either been rejected or not advanced, Zulat proposes to strengthen the right to equality via Knesset legislation through the obligation to address it in legislative proceedings. Our proposal seeks to stipulate that the explanatory notes attached to all draft bills, whether submitted by MKs or by the government, would be required to address the impact of any new law on the equality of specific groups (according to race, gender, language, national origin, or religion). In addition, all Knesset committees drafting a bill would be required to procure an evaluation regarding its impact on equality: should the bill be found to violate equality, this would have to be stated in the explanatory notes.
Prof. Raday told the committee:
“I have been participating in debates on a consensual constitution and the need for the right to equality since the 1980s, and it saddens me that it still needs to be debated given that it all seems so obvious to me. This is not just another human right, but the key to all human rights. There is no sense in human rights protection unless it applies to the human rights of all.
I would like to make three points. The first pertains to the systemic need for a Basic Law on Equality. Many people say this right has been recognized by the Supreme Court, but the fact that it is not explicitly written as a fundamental right in Israel is a very serious systemic failure. In light of this long-standing failure, Zulat proposes to anchor this right in a Basic Law. In the meantime, however, we will continue to mainstream the idea in Knesset committee debates. The Knesset speaks with two voices: in response to the petitions to the Supreme Court, the government and the Knesset both stated that the right to equality definitely applies to the Nationality Law. Accordingly, the court ruled that it should be enshrined as a fundamental right, but this remained a declaratory ruling. The Knesset subjected this elementary right to the interpretation of the court, thereby paving the way for ceaseless attacks on the Supreme Court and its weakening in the eyes of the public and in its own eyes. This right belongs in a Basic Law, and not in a government’s response to a petition. The right to equality must be enshrined as soon as possible, and it’s a disgrace, both domestically and internationally, that we don’t have such a right anchored in a constitution.
Second, the right to equality should address the elimination of group discrimination. People say this is old-fashioned and out-of-date, but the struggle to eliminate this type of discrimination has been going on for 70 years, both internationally and in Israeli society, and has been recognized by the Supreme Court. Certain groups have been systematically and historically discriminated against. Most severely hit have been women and LGBTQ, who have suffered countless family tragedies as a result of discriminatory marital laws. Minorities, who constitute 20% of the population, have historically suffered discrimination too. The elimination of group discrimination should become part of the DNA of Israeli society.
The third point has to do with the issues bothering some of the participants in this debate, which lie outside the scope of the constitutional protection accorded by the right to equality. One of these is the Law of Return. The idea that a Basic Law on Equality would prevent the state from enforcing the Law of Return is mistaken. Jews’ right to self-determination is recognized in international law, and promoting the right to self-determination through the Law of Return is fully accepted. What is wrong is targeted discrimination and the ban on family reunification. Thus, what is needed is not to repeal the Law of Return but an immigration law that does justice to groups that do not arrive in Israel by virtue of this law.
Another issue has to do with the territories occupied outside Israel’s boundaries, except for East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Basic Law on Equality should apply to East Jerusalem because its residents live in territory annexed by Israel, which obligates it to grant equality to all citizens and residents. On the extraterritorial level, the notion of equality should affect the way we solve the conflict with our neighbors and the world, but this would not be directly affected by Basic Law on Equality.”