Israeli Parliament Passes Controversial Jewish Nation-state Bill

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has long demanded that the Palestinians acknowledge his country’s existence as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” and on Thursday, his governing coalition stopped waiting around and pushed through a law that made it a fact, The New York Times reported.

In a move that was hailed as historic by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, but denounced by centrists and leftists as racist and anti-democratic, Israel’s Parliament enacted a law that enshrines the right of national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people”, and not all citizens, The Times adds.

Sixty-two lawmakers in Israel’s Knesset voted in favor of the legislation and 55 opposed it – while two lawmakers, Benny Begin (Likud) and Orly Levy-Abekasis (independent) abstained, Haaretz writes.

The legislation omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality, in what critics called a betrayal of Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which ensured “complete equality of social and political rights” for “all its inhabitants” no matter their religion, race or sex.

The new law promotes the development of Jewish communities, possibly aiding those who would seek to advance discriminatory land-allocation policies, while downgrading Arabic from an official language to one with a “special status.”

The new law, portrayed by proponents as restoring that balance in the aftermath of judicial rulings that favored democratic values, nonetheless struck critics as an effort to tip the scales sharply toward Jewishness, The Times writes.

With the political opposition too weak to mount a credible threat, and with the Trump administration providing a never-before-seen degree of American support, Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing and religious coalition in Israel’s 70-year history, has been pressing its advantages on multiple fronts.

“This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the annals of the state of Israel. We have determined in law the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens,” Netanyahu said after the bill was enacted, just before the Knesset went into summer recess.

Opponents of the law say the it will inevitably harm the fragile balance between the country’s Jewish majority and Arab minority, which makes up about 21 percent of a population of nearly nine million. The law is now one of more than a dozen basic laws that together serve as the country’s Constitution and can be amended only by a majority in the Knesset. Two others, on human dignity and on liberty and freedom of occupation, both enacted in the 1990s, determine the values of the state as both Jewish and democratic.

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