Israel adopts divisive Jewish nation-state law

Charlene Craig
July 21, 2018

One of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever to come before Israel's parliament, the so-called "Nation-State Bill", passed Thursday morning following hours of excited and angry debate.

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 law states that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and adopts the Jewish calendar as the State's official calendar.

The law will apply to areas known as the "Green Line", where almost 20 percent of the population is Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as to territories occupied in 1967, such as Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were annexed to the territory of the State of Israel by law.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat tweeted from a Palestine Liberation Organization account that the law "officially legalizes apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system".

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The new law - approved in an overnight vote by a 62-55 margin - says, "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it".

Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. It will also grant Diaspora Jewry the right to return to Israel.

"While the democratic State of Israel facilitates freedom of religion and affords people of various backgrounds the right to visit and reside there, the reality is that Israel is inherently a Jewish state and affirming that fact does not contravene the liberties that it benevolently bestows to individuals of other faiths", it continued.

According to Adalah, there are now over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens in Israel and Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.

A range of opposition members denounced the vote, with the head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh describing it as "the death of our democracy".

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Lawmakers removed a clause allowing the establishment of "separate communities" that was criticized as racist, replacing it with a clause encouraging "Jewish settlement". It also defines the official language as Hebrew and downgrades Arabic to "special status".

But opponents say it marginalizes the country's Arab minority.

"Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens". Adalah, an Arab rights NGO, said the law was an attempt to advance "ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies".

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

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