Israel approves contentious 'Jewish nation state ' law - angering Arabs

Nellie Chapman
July 19, 2018

Israel's parliament (Knesset) has adopted a controversial bill that declares the occupying entity "the nation-state of the Jewish people", in what is widely criticized as an apartheid measure that could lead to discrimination against its own Arab population.

Arabic, previously considered an official language, was granted only special status.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the legislation's passage a "historic moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel". "It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens".

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press following the vote: "Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here".

"I really hope that we won't find the fine balance between a Jewish and democratic state to be hurt", he said.

"This is an evil law", he said, adding that "a black flag hovers over it".

"I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state", said physician Bassam Bisharah, 71.

Reuters notes, "Early drafts of the legislation went further in what critics at home and overseas saw as discrimination toward Israel's Arabs, who have long said they are treated as second-class citizens".

The law also declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the state's official calendar and recognizes Jewish holidays.

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Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, described the law as a bid to advance "ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies". "Long live the state of Israel".

The American Jewish Committee, a group representing the Jewish Diaspora, said it was "deeply disappointed", saying the law "put at risk the commitment of Israel's founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic".

American Jewish organizations also expressed their disapproval of the law.

On paper, Israeli Arabs - who are mainly Palestinians - have full rights unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories but they often complain of discrimination in housing, employment, education and services.

Another section would have enshrined in law the establishment of communities of the "same faith and nationality", potentially opening the way for segregated communities and discrimination against homosexuals.

As part of the protest campaign against the bill, activists from Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, waved a black flag in the Knesset balcony during the debate on Wednesday and early Thursday.

Israelis, including President Reuven Rivlin and attorney general, voiced opposition to the earlier draft of the bill.

It also bemoaned another clause that says Israel views Jewish settlement as a national value, which AJC said can be seen as a "euphemism for the originally proposed endorsement of support for Jewish-only communities in Israel".

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