Israel Passes Controversial Law Reserving National Self-Determination For Jews

Clay Curtis
July 19, 2018

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat panned a new Israeli Basic Law on Thursday that enshrines Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, contending that it "legalizes apartheid".

"It is a decisive moment in the history of the state of Israel that inscribes in stone our language, our anthem and our flag", Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the vote on the legislation, backed by his right-wing government.

"The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people", the law states. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing.

Its drafters say it is aimed at boosting Israel's Jewish character and its passage into law Thursday was celebrated as a historic moment by Netanyahu and his cohorts.

The nation-state law declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays.

Last week Mr Netanyahu defended the law, saying: "We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides".

"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", said Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List Arab faction in the Knesset.

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

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

Around 20 per cent of Israel's population is Arab.

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However, it will likely face a challenge at the Supreme Court.

"It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens", it said.

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

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

Before it was adopted, 14 American Jewish organizations relayed their concerns to the incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who has been a vocal critic of the bill himself.

"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.

Israel has 1.9 million Arab citizens, or about 21 percent of the total population of 9 million.

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

Rivlin, whose role as president is mainly symbolic, had made a rare intervention in politics earlier this month to raise alarm over the clause.

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