Israel adopts racist Jewish nation-state law

Israel adopts racist Jewish nation-state law

Israel has approved a controversial law that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people - leading to accusations that it discriminates against Arabs.

Early Thursday morning, the Knesset passed the law, which has been dubbed "the nation-state Law", with 62 lawmakers voting in favor, 55 opposed and two abstaining, after hours of heated debate in the Knesset chamber.

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". One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing. He added: "Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which honors the individual rights of all its citizens".

In a statement following the law's passage, Mr Odeh "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".

But critics, including many Arabs, however, said it was racist and discriminatory, planting the seeds of an "apartheid state".

Some Arab MPs shouted and ripped up papers after the vote.

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

A range of opposition members denounced the vote, with the head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh denouncing it as "the death of our democracy".

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

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About 20% of Israel's population of nine million are Arab, with an additional 2.8m Palestinians living in the Israel-occupied West Bank and about 1.7m in the Gaza strip.

Israel's 1948 declaration of independence defined its nature as a Jewish and democratic state, a delicate balance the country has grappled to maintain for 70 years.

"Separation, discrimination, supremacy and racism have now been enshrined into the Basic Law", he wrote, calling on Jewish and Arab democrats to unite against nationalism and racism.

"This is not a decision I expected from the Likud leadership", he said.

Instead, the law that passed on Thursday says that the Israeli state views "the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment".

The American Jewish Committee, a group representing the Jewish diaspora, said it was "deeply disappointed", saying the law "put at risk the commitment of Israel's founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic".

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.

The controversial bill underwent a number of last minute changes to soften language following political disputes and objections, including from Israel's president and attorney-general.

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