Israel passes controversial law affecting around 1.8 million Arabs

Arturo Kim
July 21, 2018

The Israeli Knesset's passage on Thursday of controversial legislation known as the "nation-state bill" drew mixed reactions from Jewish groups around the globe.

The Bill, which passed by 62 votes to 55, cites the expansion of Jewish settlements as a priority of the government and establishes Hebrew as the only official language of the state, stripping Arabic of that status.

But the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, says the bill still threatens to undermine Israel's democratic values.

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

The bill also removes Arabic as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a "special status" that enables its continued use in Israeli institutions.

The Hamas official further said "regional and global silence on the occupation's crimes" has emboldened the regime in Tel Aviv to pass one "extremist" law after another.

Ashrawi also said that this affirms Israel's willful intent to erase the Palestinian narrative, presence and continuity on the land, while actively eradicating the history, culture and identity of the Palestinian people which predate the creation of the state of Israel.

"We are proud of being a strong nation deeply rooted in our homeland", Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

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The question of Israel's status as a Jewish state is politically controversial and has always been debated.

Arab Israeli legislators were angrily rejecting the bill after it passed, stressing the section that declares settling in areas conquered in the 1967 war to be a "national value" that will be encouraged and promoted. This is our country, the Jewish state.

Clauses that were dropped in last-minute political wrangling - and after objections by Israel's president and attorney-general - would have enshrined in law the establishment of Jewish-only communities, and instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no relevant legal precedents.

Even after the changes, critics said the new law will deepen a sense of alienation within the Palestinian Arab minority.

Last week, 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".

It described the law in a statement as "colonial, anti-democratic, racist in content and has the features of apartheid".

"An absolute majority wants to ensure our state's Jewish character for generations to come". Around 20 per cent of Israel's population is Arab. Adalah, an Arab rights NGO, said the law was an attempt to advance "ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies".

Arabs living in Israel - descendants of those who stayed after many were expelled from historic Palestine in 1948 - have equal legal rights, but they say they are discriminated against in areas such as work, housing and education. Hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes or fled.

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