The controversial Jewish nation-state bill passed early Thursday morning and has become Israel’s 14th Basic law by a vote of 62 in favor, 55 against and two abstentions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the law as "a defining moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the State of Israel… 122 years after Herzl published his vision, we have stated by law the basic principle of our existence,” he added.
The law defines Israel as a “nation-state of the Jewish people” and encourages the advancement of Jewish settlements.
The Jerusalem Post states two of the most controversial clauses were amended before it passed the Knesset. A clause that would have stopped Arabs from living in separate communities from Israel was replaced with one saying, “The state sees developing Jewish settlement as a national interest and will take steps to encourage, advance, and implement this interest.”
One opposition leader angrily ripped up the copy of the bill while another said he was witnessing “death of democracy” and that “racism has hit a new peak with this bill.”
Earlier this week, Israel authorities cracked down on a Palestinian TV network after accusing it of being in cahoots with Hamas. Now, it is deliberating on enshrining a “Jewish character” law — but critics believe it will excuse the country’s Arab minority which makes up of a quarter of Israel’s population.
Israeli leaders have long argued that Jewish values and identities need to be secured via a specific law and not just through the Declaration of Independence. Almost all Zionist political parties back defining Israel as a democratic Jewish state and lay emphasis on the country’s flag, national anthem and other symbols to emphasize Judaism.
The bill also declares occupied Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, something that is opposed by Palestinians, who claim the eastern side of the city as theirs. It proposes demoting the status of the Arabic language from the official national language and establishing “separate communities” for its Arab citizens, a proposal that critics have condemned as being racist.
The bill “sticks a finger in the eyes of a fifth of the citizens, deliberately creating conflict among people to earn a bit more political capital for the Netanyahu tyranny,” Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, an alliance of Arab-dominated parties in Israel’s parliament, said on Twitter.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting of his Likud party’s parliamentary factions that the bill “is very important to guaranteeing the essence of our existence, and we must pass it soon.”
He asserted that Israel will continue to maintain minority rights, “the majority also has rights and the majority decides. The vast majority wants to guarantee the Jewish nature of our country for generations.”
The legislation could anger Palestinian officials who do not accept Israel as a Jewish state and do not believe Jews are entitled to self-determination. They also fear the bill would block the “right of return” of the Arab refugees from the 1948 Middle East war and their millions of descendant to Israel.
Over the past years, the bill failed to pass over accusations it discriminated against the 20 percent Arab minority, women and non-Jewish immigrants and undermined democracy for the sake of Jewish identity.
Protesters opposed to the bill took to the streets of Tel Aviv in large numbers on Saturday.
The bill’s supporters want the full Knesset to vote before the parliament breaks for summer recess. If passed, the proposal would become Israel’s 12th Basic Law — which is equivalent to a constitution — although it is expected it would face challenges in court.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters