Israel adopts controversial ‘Jewish nation-state’ law

Head of the Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh denounced the law as ‘the death of our democracy’.
Thursday 19/07/2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a speech in Jerusalem, on June 14. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a speech in Jerusalem, on June 14. (AFP)

LONDON - Israel’s parliament on Thursday adopted a law defining the country as the nation state of the Jewish people, provoking fears it will lead to blatant discrimination against Arab citizens.

The legislation, adopted by 62 votes to 55, makes Hebrew the country’s national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.

The Arabic language was granted only “special” status.

The law speaks of Israel as being the Jewish historical homeland and says Jews have the right to self-determination there.

However, a deeply controversial clause that had been seen as more specifically legalising the establishment of Jewish-only communities was changed after it drew criticism, including from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

The legislation becomes part of the country’s basic laws, which serve as a de facto constitution.

“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.

Politicians took turns to passionately express their views for and against the bill in a rowdy, hours-long debate in parliament overnight.

A range of opposition members denounced the vote. 

'Black flag'

The head of the Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh pulled out a black flag and waved it during his speech in parliament, warning of the implications of the law.

He said “this is an evil law” and added that “a black flag hovers over it.”

Arab citizens account for some 17.5 percent of Israel’s more than eight million population.

Odeh denounced the law as “the death of our democracy”.

The bill drew condemnations from observers and rights groups.

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”.

Various versions of the legislation have been debated for years.

Netanyahu’s government, seen as the most right-wing in the country’s history, had pushed for its approval before the parliament’s summer session ends.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)