Israel for Jews: Parliament passes controversial law

Israelis wave national flags outside the Old City's Damascus Gate in Jerusalem

Israel's parliament has passed a controversial law characterising the country as principally a Jewish state, fuelling anger among its Arab minority.

To his part, Secretary General of the PLO, Dr. Saeb Erekat, said on twitter that the passing of the "Jewish Nation-State" Bill by the Israeli Knesset a risky and racist law par excellence, since it denies the Arab citizens their right to self-determination to instead be determined by the Jewish population.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt stated, "While there are provisions that we agree with - notably with regard to state symbols like the anthem, flag and capital Jerusalem; as well as in reaffirming that the State of Israel is open to Jewish immigration - we are troubled by the fact that the law, which celebrates the fundamental Jewish nature of the state, raises significant questions about the government's long-term commitment to its pluralistic identity and democratic nature".

Israel is home to 1.8 million Arabs, which is around 20 per cent of its population of 9 million.

Officials from the Palestinian Liberation Organization called the law "racist" and said it legalized "apartheid".

The government says the bill will merely enshrine into law Israel's existing character.

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It states that the Jewish people "have an exclusive right to national self-determination" in the country and makes Hebrew the only official language. Critics contend the bill's expansive language would be devastating to Israel's image and undermine its positioning as being both Jewish and democratic.

The bill's critics also warned that it risked deepening the divide between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

Instead, a more vaguely worded version was approved, which says: "The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment".

"I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy", Ahmed Tibi, an Arab lawmaker, told reporters after the law was adopted.

Controversially, the law singles out Hebrew as the "state's language", effectively prioritising it above Arabic which has for decades been recognised as an official language alongside Hebrew.

The European Union also weighed in and expressed concern over the legislation.

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Last week, Netanyahu defended the law, saying: "We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides".

"Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which honours the individual rights of all its citizens", the prime minister said. For example, the left-wing Meretz party put forward an amendment to change the bill's name from "Israel - the nation-state of the Jewish People" to "Israel - For Orthodox Jews Only". "It seeks to maintain a regime in which one ethnic-national group controls an indigenous-national group living in the same territory while advancing ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies in the most basic aspects of life".

It comprises mainly descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land during the conflict between Arabs and Jews that culminated in the war of 1948 surrounding Israel's creation.

Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state in any final peace settlement.

"The goal of this law is discrimination".

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