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July 19, 2018 9:07 am

Israeli Knesset Adopts Jewish Nation-State Law

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The Knesset. Photo: Itzik Edri via Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s Knesset passed a law on Thursday to declare that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country.

The “nation-state” law, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, passed by a vote of 62-55 and two abstentions in the 120-member parliament after months of political argument. Some Arab lawmakers shouted and ripped up papers after the vote.

“This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of Israel’s birth. It stipulates that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.”

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The bill also stripped Arabic of its designation as an official language alongside Hebrew, downgrading it to a “special status” that enables its continued use within Israeli institutions.

Israel’s Arabs number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the 9 million population.

Clauses that were dropped in last-minute political wrangling — and after objections by Israel’s president and attorney-general — would have enshrined in law the establishment of Jewish-only communities, and instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no relevant legal precedents.

Instead, a more vaguely-worded version was approved, which said: “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment.”

Even after the changes, critics said the new law will deepen a sense of alienation within the Arab minority.

“I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy,” Ahmed Tibi, an Arab lawmaker, told reporters.

Netanyahu has defended the law. “We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel’s democracy, but the majority also has rights and the majority decides,” he said last week.

“An absolute majority wants to ensure our state’s Jewish character for generations to come,” he continued.

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