Israel’s parliament on Tuesday passed the first reading of a bill which will change the country’s constitution to declare Jerusalem as its capital and relegate Arabic from an official language to one with “special status”.
The Knesset voted 64 to 50 to pass the “Israel – the national state for Jewish people” bill through its first reading. It needs two more readings before it becomes the country’s “Basic Law”.
The bill recognises the status of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” and “the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its homeland”.
It declares “Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and the Hebrew language as the official language, relegating Arabic from an official language to one with “special status”.
It establishes the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar and the commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day, the Jewish holidays, and the days of remembrance.
Avi Dichter, an MP from Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is the sponsor of the bill that will now be sent to a special committee headed by his fellow Likud MP Amir Ohana.
Dichter said at the beginning of the debate in the Knesset that “anyone who does not belong to the Jewish nation cannot define the state of Israel as his nation-state”.
“The Palestinians will not be able to define Israel as their nation-state. The nation-state law is the insurance policy we are leaving for the next generation,” he added.
“The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Dichter added.
“This is a clear fact. But despite everything, after 70 years, unfortunately, it is not clear to everyone and it is certainly is not anchored in any law in the state of Israel.”
A similar bill in 2014 titled the “Jewish state law” failed amid coalition wrangling.
Israeli MPs wanted the language of the bill to be softened in the clause that instructs the justice system to prefer Israel’s Jewish character to its democratic one in cases where the two are at odds.
Yael German, an MP from the Yesh Atid party, said the nation-state bill was anti-democratic.
“Government came and said that democracy is only the rule of the majority. Democracy is not a majority rule,” he said.
“Democracy is the rule in which values, civil rights, and especially minority rights are preserved.”
Ahmed Tibi, an MP for the Joint List coalition and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, described the bill as “racist”.
“The law basically states that there are two types of citizens. The first, a group of Jews who have rights, and the second group are tolerable guests.
“In practical terms, the law determines Jewish-only settlements. If it’s not racism, I do not know what racism is.”[Source: Middle East Eye]