Israel approves contentious Jewish 'nation state' bill

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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 law, backed by the right-wing government, was passed with a 62-55 vote and two abstentions in the 120-member parliament, after months of political argument.

"Another says that 'the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation'".

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.

The bill "is very important to guaranteeing the essence of our existence, and we must pass it soon", Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday at a meeting of his Likud party's parliamentary faction.

The government says the bill only enshrines into law what had always been integral to Israel's existing character, but the country's minority Arabs, which make up about 20 percent of the country's 9 million people, see the change as akin to establishing apartheid.

Mr Netanyahu claimed that the law was a response to...

"Such racist and prejudicial legislation is illegal by all standards of global law, democracy, humanity, justice, tolerance, and inclusion", she said.

Some Arab politicians shouted and ripped up papers after the vote.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, described the law as a bid to advance "ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies".

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

"This is a defining moment for the State of Israel", said Netanyahu, speaking in the plenum after the law was passed.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, said Breaking the Silence, "had crossed the line of legitimate dialogue a long time ago when they chose to slander the State of Israel in the global arena".

Around 20 per cent of Israel's population is Arab.

"If there had been another paragraph that also gives full equality to all citizens of Israel, then I would have been a lot more relaxed", he said.

Lawmakers removed a clause allowing the establishment of "separate communities" that was criticised as racist, replacing it with a clause encouraging "Jewish settlement".

American Jewish organizations also expressed their disapproval of the law.

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

Israel's justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, said, however, that the law gave Israeli settlers the option to appeal such rulings, as well making all Israeli citizens, including those living in the West Bank, equal rights.

The controversial bill underwent a number of last minute changes to soften language following political disputes and objections, including from Israel's president and attorney-general.

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