Published: Thu, July 19, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Israel adopts controversial Jewish nation-state law

Israel adopts controversial Jewish nation-state law

Legislation backed by the right-wing government was passed in the early hours of this morning.

The law speaks of Israel as being the Jewish historical homeland and says Jews have the right to self-determination there.

The bill also strips Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a "special status" that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions.

Israel's government says the bill, which would have constitution-like standing, enshrines the country's Jewish character into law, but critics say it marginalizes the country's Arab citizens, which constitute around 20 percent of the population, and threatens Israeli democracy.

The government says the bill only enshrines into law what had always been integral to Israel's existing character, but the country's minority Arabs, which make up about 20 percent of the country's 9 million people, see the change as akin to establishing apartheid.

'Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns. that the state has declared that it does not want us here, ' Odeh said in a statement later.

Isaac Herzog, the head of the main opposition Zionist List political alliance, said in parliament that history will determine whether the law harms or benefits Israel.

"Such racist and prejudicial legislation is illegal by all standards of worldwide law, democracy, humanity, justice, tolerance, and inclusion", she said.

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.

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

Israel's 1948 declaration of independence defined its nature as a Jewish and democratic state, a delicate balance the country has grappled to maintain for 70 years.

Two other laws also approved this week deal with the rights of Palestinians, not citizens of Israel, who live in the West Bank and the groups that advocate for them.

"By defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging exclusively to the Jewish people - wherever they live around the world - Israel has made discrimination a constitutional value and has professed its commitment to favoring Jewish supremacy as the bedrock of its institutions", Adalah General Director Hassan Jabareen said in a statement following the vote.

Benny Begin, son of former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, the founder of Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, abstained from voting, warning of the party's growing disconnect from human rights.

American Jewish organisations also expressed disapproval.

'This is not a decision I expected from the Likud leadership, ' he said.

Lawmakers had removed the most contentious clause of the bill on Sunday which would have allowed the establishment of "separate communities" and which critics had called racist.

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

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