Jerusalem, July 19 : Israel’s parliament on Thursday passed into law a controversial bill that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people – leading to accusations that it discriminates against Arabs.
The “Jewish nation state” bill downgrades Arabic as an official language and says advancing Jewish settlement is a national interest. It also states that the “whole and united” Jerusalem is its capital.
Sixty-two MPs voted for the bill, with 55 against in a stormy session of Knesset that lasted more than eight hours while Israeli Arab MPs condemned the legislation and ripped up papers after the vote.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the Jewish Nation-State Bill by terming it as a “defining moment in the annals of Zionism” after the state marked the 70th anniversary of its birth.
Netanyahu said the bill was about defending the Jewish character of the state, which was established in 1948 as a homeland for the Jewish people, “for generations to come”.
“We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel’s democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides,” he said.
The bill, backed by the country’s right-wing government, says that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”.
Israeli Arabs make up about 20 per cent of the Israel’s population of about nine million people.They have equal rights under the law, but have long complained of being treated as second class citizens and say they face discrimination and worse provision of services such as education, health and housing.
Arab MP Ahmed Tibi said the bill’s passing represented the “death of democracy”.
Adalah, an Arab rights NGO, said the law was an attempt to advance “ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies”.