Published: Fri, July 20, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

Israel passes controversial Jewish nation-state law

Israel passes controversial Jewish nation-state law

Nationalistic legislation declaring Israel a national homeland for the Jewish people and prioritizing Jewish-only communities was voted into law Thursday, one of a series of controversial bills approved this week by Israeli lawmakers that have alarmed opposition leaders and been described by critics as anti-democratic or even draconian.

"This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel", Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset following the result.

The sponsor of the law, Avi Dichter from Netanyahu's Likud party, has said it aims to defend Israel's "status as a Jewish and democratic state".

Critics, including President Reuven Rivlin, have claimed that earlier versions of the nation-state law, which legalized the creation of Jewish-only, Arab-only or other ethnically, religiously or culturally homogeneous communities, were discriminatory against Arabs and other minorities.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called it a "dangerous and racist law" that "officially legalises apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system".

"Now Israel has embraced its own "nation-state" law, which further marginalises the existence of the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian Arabs", said Trachtenberg.

Michel Sabbah, the former Archbishop and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera the "racist" law did not surprise him.

"So today we have made a law in stone". In a statement after the law's passage, Levin said, "This is a historic and defining day in which we add another link in the glorious chain that our Zionist forefathers began. We will remain steadfast holding on tightly to the historic, national and human rights of our people, wherever they are, including by fully ending the Israeli occupation by freeing the state of Palestine on the 1967 border, with east Jerusalem as its capital, as well as fulfilling all our rights based on global law, including the refugee issue in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194".

Laws such as the Right of Return, which provides all Jews in the world with automatic Israeli citizenship, or budgetary allotments that encourage Jewish settlement, will now have more firm legal basis, say proponents of the law.

As supporters of Israel in the United Kingdom the Law creates its own challenges, both to perceptions of Israel and how we engage and motivate our community - particularly the younger generations - towards Israel.

"I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state", said physician Bassam Bisharah, 71.

The American Jewish Committee said it is "deeply disappointed" by the law, first because it "downgrades" Arabic and second because it promotes "Jewish settlement".

But the bill has energized Netanyahu's electoral base and received almost unanimous support in the Prime Minister's Likud party.

"An absolute majority wants to ensure our state's Jewish character for generations to come". It doesn't specify whether it's referring to Israel within the Green Line, which is the internationally accepted boundary, or whether it's also referring to the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, considered occupied territory. Why act only in the Diaspora and not in Israel itself?

"In Israel you will not see people excited or not excited because for Jewish Israelis, the new law enshrines what already exists", Frantzman said.

The European Union's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini expressed her concern, saying the law would complicate a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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