Israeli Parliament passes contentious Jewish nation law

Israel: Israel’s Parliament on Thursday approved a controversial piece of legislation that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people but, critics warn, sidelines minorities.

The government says the bill, passed will merely enshrine into law Israel’s existing character.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the legislation’s passage a “historic moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel.

He said, “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, which honors the individual rights of all its citizens. I repeat this is our state. The Jewish state.

“Lately, there are people who are trying to destabilise this and, therefore, destabilise the foundations of our existence and our rights. 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.”

But opponents to the law say it marginalizes the country’s Arab minority. One clause downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing. Around 20% of Israel’s population is Arab.

The law was passed with a 62-55 backing, with two members of Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, abstaining. The legislation is defined as a “basic law,” granting it quasi-constitutional status.

Politicians took turns to passionately express their views for and against the bill in a rowdy, hours-long debate in Parliament overnight.

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