Palestine Tensions: Knesset adopts controversial 'Jewish state' law

Israel passes controversial nation-state bill

Israel's parliament (Knesset) has adopted a controversial bill that declares the occupying entity "the nation-state of the Jewish people", in what is widely criticized as an apartheid measure that could lead to discrimination against its own Arab population.

The government says the bill will formally place into law the country's existing status. "I repeat this is our state".

"With this law we determined the founding principle of our existence". This is our anthem and this is our flag. After the bill passed into law, he said it marked "a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel".

Netanyahu brushed off all argument that the law prioritizes the rights of Jews at the expense of Arabs, touting the Jewish state as "the only democracy in the Middle East." .

Arabs living in Israel - descendants of those who stayed after many were expelled from historic Palestine in 1948 - have equal legal rights, but they say they are discriminated against in areas such as work, housing and education. Sixty-two MPs voted for the bill, with 55 against.

Like Israel's constitution, Basic Laws underpin the country's legal system, and they are more hard to repeal than regular laws.

A range of opposition members denounced the vote, with the head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh denouncing it as "the death of our democracy".

"This is an evil law", he told lawmakers, adding that "a black flag hovers over it". "The Israelis want to destroy all the religions of the Arabs".

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But the Jewish community itself has been split about the law.

The picture taken on July 18, 2018 shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with cabinet ministers at the Knesset plenum.

"This is not a decision I expected from the Likud leadership", he said.

The Arabic language was granted only special status.

American Jewish organizations also expressed their disapproval of the law.

"Strong connection between Israel and Jews worldwide is based on these values that Israel is both a Jewish and democratic state", Ben Ami said, adding concerns the bill would "weaken the strength of Israel's democracy".

Months of debate preceded the law's approval, with previous versions of the bill including sections that instructed courts to rule according to Jewish law when there was no legal precedent and which explicitly allowed establishment of Jewish-only communities.

Mr Rivlin was one of many Jewish Israelis who objected to the law, and thousands protested the proposed legislation under the banner "this is home for all of us" in Tel Aviv last week.

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