Israel passes controversial 'Jewish nation-state law', stripping Arabs of self-determination right

Israel passes a law to declare only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country, something members of the Arab minority say is racist and verging on apartheid.

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.

Key points:
Mr Netanyahu says law sets in stone that Israel is a Jewish state
The bill strips Arabic of its status as an official language alongside Hebrew
Critics of the law say it is "evil", racist and "the death of democracy"

The "nation-state" law, backed by the Government, passed by a vote of 62-55 and two abstentions in the 120-member Parliament after months of political argument.

Some Arab politicians 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," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the vote.

"Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which honours the individual rights of all its citizens," he said.

"Lately there are people who are trying to destabilise this and therefore destabilise the foundations of our existence and our rights," he added.

"So today we have made a law in stone. This is our country. This is our language. This is our anthem and this is our flag. Long live the state of Israel."

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, pulled out a black flag and waved it during his speech in Parliament, warning of the implications of the law.

"This is an evil law," he said, adding that "a black flag hovers over it".

In a statement following the law's passage, Mr Odeh "today I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here".

Benny Begin, the son of former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and the founder of Mr Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, abstained from voting, warning of the party's growing disconnect from human rights.

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

Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel.

It stipulates that "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it".

The bill also strips 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 per cent of the 9 million population.

Early drafts of the legislation went further in what critics at home and abroad saw as discrimination towards Israel's Arabs, who have long said they are treated as second-class citizens.

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 says:

"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 would deepen a sense of alienation within the Arab minority.

"I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy," Ahmed Tibi, an Arab politician, told reporters.

American Jewish organisations also expressed disapproval.

The American Jewish Committee, a group representing the Jewish diaspora, said it was "deeply disappointed," saying the law "put at risk the commitment of Israel's founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic".

Israel's Arab population is comprised mainly of descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land during the conflict between Arabs and Jews that culminated in the war of 1948 surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel.

Hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes or fled.

Those who remained have full equal rights under the law but say they face constant discrimination, citing inferior services and unfair allocations for education, health and housing.
If you enjoy humour, replace "Israel" with "Macedonia".