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Bill enshrining Israel's status as 'Jewish state' greenlit for Knesset vote

May 7, 2017 10:01 P.M. (Updated: May 16, 2017 2:27 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli cabinet committee approved a contested bill on Sunday seeking to enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state into the country’s central legislation, sparking concern the heightened discrimination Palestinians would face should it become law.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted unanimously to move the “Jewish State bill" -- which is also being referred to as the “Nationality” or “Nation State bill" -- to a preliminary vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The bill declares that Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people,” and that “the right to realize self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

It would also revoke Arabic’s status as an official state language, despite 20 percent of Israeli citizens being Palestinians, downgrading it to “special status in the state” while stating that “its speakers have the right to language-accessible state services.”

Meanwhile, Israeli news outlet Ynet reported that other sections of the bill addressed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, illegal Jewish settlements, the status of holy sites, and non-Israeli Jews’ right to obtain Israeli nationality.

The bill states that “every resident of Israel, without distinction of religion or national origin, is entitled to work to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity,” while affirming that “the state may allow a community, including members of the same religion or national origin, to have separate communal settlements.”

Proponents of the bill aim to have it pass into Israel’s Basic Law -- the body of legislation which effectively stands as Israel’s constitution.

Bills need to go through three rounds of votes in the Knesset before they can become law.

Knesset member Avi Dichter, who first proposed the legislation, hailed the bill as “critical” given Palestinian and international opposition to Israel for its violations of international law, framing such condemnations of Israel as anti-Jewish sentiment.

"The Palestinian aspiration to eliminate the Jewish people's nation-state is no longer secret," Ynet quoted him as saying. "The State of Israel, which demands of its enemies to recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people and justifiably asks its supporters in the world to back this demand, needs to be able to declare in its highest legislative level that it proudly maintains this identity."

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, a coalition of political parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, denounced the bill on social media as “crushing the rights of minorities.”

“This Nationality bill is the tyranny of the majority, turning us into second-class citizens, and this time making it legal,” Odeh said.

Haaretz quoted Zehava Galon, the chairwoman of the left-wing Zionist Meretz party, as saying that the bill amounted to "a declaration of war against Israel's Arab citizens and against Israel as a democratic and properly governed society," using the Israeli term for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israel and its supporters have long claimed that Israel’s insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state was not different from other countries’ national identities, without elaborating on how the enactment of policies to maintain and privilege a Jewish national religious identity was compatible with equal rights for all people under Israeli civilian and military rule regardless of religion.

Rights organization Adalah has tallied at least 76 Israeli laws that already discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Palestinian communities in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem have long been targeted by discriminatory Israeli policies, whether through “divide and conquer” tactics, attempts at forcibly displacing Bedouin communities, zoning policies at the expense of Palestinian-Israeli communities, and what has been denounced as a policy of "Judaization" of Jerusalem at the expense of other religious communities.
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