Israel passes controversial nation-state bill

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Israel passes controversial nation-state bill

Israel has passed a law to declare that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country, something members of the Arab minority have called racist and verging on apartheid.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, said Breaking the Silence, "had crossed the line of legitimate dialogue a long time ago when they chose to slander the State of Israel in the global arena".

"We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context", a spokesperson for European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told a news briefing.

The law further rescinds Arabic as an official language, downgrading it to a "special status".

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 President Reuven Rivlin.

The law becomes one of the so-called Basic Laws, which, like a constitution, guide Israel's legal system and are usually more hard to repeal than regular laws.

The law passed 62-55 during a heated session that revealed deep divisions within Israeli society over the religious and democratic character of what many have long called the Jewish state.

He called its approval a "decisive moment" in Israeli history.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, pulled out a black flag and waved it during his speech, warning of the implications of the law. He said he suspects it is the first step in a bigger plan to establish more such laws and practices "against Arab citizens".

About 20% of Israel's population of nine million are Arab - with an additional 2.8 million Palestinians living in the Israel-occupied West Bank and about 1.7 million in the Gaza Strip. They have long complained of discrimination.

Opponents to the law say it marginalizes the country's Arab minority.

The law can be attributed in part to the dissipation of the left in Israeli politics after the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians as Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared after the Camp David summit in 2000 that there was no Palestinian partner. "We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides", he said last week.

The Turkish foreign ministry called for the "necessary response" from the global community to the law, which it said was aimed at eliminating the vision of a two-state solution.

By emphasising Israel's Jewish nature, it is "reducing, not directly but indirectly, its democratic nature", Friedman told AFP.

But the bill has energized Netanyahu's electoral base and received almost unanimous support in the Prime Minister's Likud party.

Some 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 less relevant, or obsolete, in the future.

The legislation "could harm the Jewish people worldwide and in Israel, and could even be used as a weapon by our enemies", he wrote in an open letter. "Do we want to be the only democracy on earth to make racially-based segregation legal?" "The Palestinian people will remain the sovereign of this land", he added. It also defines Jewish settlement of the land as a "national interest". It is a law meant to provoke, divide, disparage and continue the incitement wave of the Netanyahu government.

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