Jerusalem: Israel’s Parliament has passed a controversial law characterising the country as principally a Jewish state, fuelling anger among its Arab minority.
The “nation state” law says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination there and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.
Arab MPs reacted furiously in parliament, with one waving a black flag and others ripping up the bill. Israel’s Prime Minister praised the bill’s passage as a “defining moment”.
“A hundred and twenty-two years after [the founder of modern Zionism Theodore] Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence,” Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens.” However, the law risks further alienating Israel’s large Arab minority, who have long felt discriminated against.
Israel is often accused by its fiercest critics of practising a system akin to apartheid against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Israel vehemently rejects the allegation as a smear tactic used by those who reject its very right to exist.
What does the law say…
Called The Basic Law: Among its 11 provisions, the law describes Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people’ and says the right to exercise national self-determination there is ‘unique to the Jewish people’.
It also reiterates the status of Jerusalem under Israeli law, which defines the city – part of which is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state – as the ‘complete and united… capital of Israel’.
Why this law has been created
The question of Israel’s status as a Jewish state is politically controversial. Before now, it has not been enshrined in law.Israeli Jewish politicians consider that the founding principles of Israel’s creation, as a state for Jews in their ancient homeland, are under threat and could become obsolete in the future.
Controversially, the law singles out Hebrew as the ‘state’s language’.