Israel Enacts Controversial Nation-State Bill, Critics Call it Racist
On Thursday, the Israeli parliament or Knesset passed a controversial bill that declares Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and that the right to national self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people.” The law has sparked widespread criticism and condemnation as a racist law as many argue it condemns Arab Israelis to second-class status.
The law, known as the Jewish Nation-State, was supported by the right-wing government. The bill was enacted by a 62-55 vote and two abstentions in the 120-member parliament. Several Arab lawmakers shouted and ripped up their papers after the voting process.
What’s the Jewish Nation-State Law All About?
The law was seen as a pivotal and symbolic move as it was enacted a few months after Israel’s 70th anniversary. The law consists of 11 provisions, one revokes the Arabic language as one of the official languages and downgrades it to “special” status. It then declares Hebrew as the official national language.
Another provision declares Jerusalem as the “complete and united… capital of Israel.” Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their territory and consider it the capital of their future state.
The law will affect around 1.8 million Palestinians with Israel citizenship or 20 percent of Israel’s 9 million population.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the law as the most defining moment in the history of Zionism.
“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,” the Prime Minister stated.
The idea for the Nation-State law emerged in 2011 and had been debated for years before it was passed last week. Some think fear over growing birth-rates among Israeli-Arabs and the possibility of a two-state solution were some of the factors behind the call to enact the law.
Reactions To Jewish Nation-State Law
Israel’s left-wing party Meretz slammed the law as embarrassing and claimed it tarnished the country’s image.
“The nation-state law was taken out of storage and apartheid pops out of the box,” Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg said.
Former Israeli’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that the law only benefits Netanyahu. Her Hatnuah Party, the largest opposition party in the parliament, voted against the law.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to prevent Israel from implementing the discriminatory law.
The law “reveals the racist face of the Israeli occupation,” Abbas said in an official statement.
The statement also called on “the international community to intervene and undertake its responsibilities in stopping these racist laws by way of pressuring Israel and compelling it to implement resolutions of international legitimacy.”
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said the law legalizes “Israeli racism” and constitutes “a dangerous attack” on the Palestinian people.
“These extremist laws and resolutions would not have been approved if it were not for the regional and international silence on the occupation’s crimes and violations,” he said, without specifying which laws. “All these laws and resolutions are baseless, and they will not come to pass or change anything on the ground. The Palestinian people will remain the sovereign of this land,” said Barhoum.
According to The Peninsula, many in the American Jewish community also expressed its disappointment over the law. The New Israel Fund, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, described the legislation as “tribalism at its worst.”
“Legislation that identifies first- and second-class citizens has no place in a democracy and danger to Israel’s future,” it added.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of Union of Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination around the world, said the law would do an “enormous damage” to Israel.
The American Jewish Committee said the law “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic.”
However, the National Council of Young Israel supported the law and said: “The reality is that Israel is inherently a Jewish state and affirming that fact does not contravene the liberties that it benevolently bestows to individuals of other faiths.”
The European Union issued a stern response to the nation-state law. “We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context,” said EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini. “We’ve been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution, we believe it is the only way forward and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided,” she added.