Israel passes controversial nation-state bill

Israel passes controversial nation-state bill

Israel passes controversial nation-state bill

Israel's parliament on Thursday adopted a law defining the country as the nation state of the Jewish people, provoking fears it could lead to blatant discrimination against Arab citizens.

The "nation-state" law, backed by the right-wing government, passed by a vote of 62-55 and two abstentions in the 120-member parliament after months of political argument.

The bill states that "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people" and "the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people".

Another contentious clause strips the Arabic language of its official status, instead granting it "a special status" and leaving Hebrew as the only official state language.

The bill "is very important to guaranteeing the essence of our existence, and we must pass it soon", Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday at a meeting of his Likud party's parliamentary faction.

"Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people that respects the individual rights of all its citizens". Despite the text cryptically stating that provision "does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect", one US Jewish group cast that clause as harmful.

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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 repeat, this is our state, the Jewish state."

Adalah, an Arab rights NGO, said the law was an attempt to advance "ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies".

"If there had been another paragraph that also gives full equality to all citizens of Israel, then I would have been a lot more relaxed", he said.

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.

For instance, New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch called the bill "completely incompatible" with the "democratic foundation" of the Israeli state.

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American Jewish organizations also expressed their disapproval of the law.

The law, which had been in the works since 2011, has sparked a wave of protests, which spilled over the Israeli border and angered the influential Jewish diaspora in the US.

One section that was dropped would have instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no legal precedents.

"The goal of this law is discrimination".

Lawmakers removed a clause allowing the establishment of "separate communities" that was criticized as racist, replacing it with a clause encouraging "Jewish settlement".

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

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"The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment."

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