The Israeli parliament passed a law early Thursday that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people, giving them a right to self-determination while simultaneously downgrading the Arab community.
For the first time, Israel is officially “the national home of the Jewish people,” the final text of the bill says.
The nation-state law narrowly passed in a 62-55 vote in the 120-member Knesset after hours of debate and months of political disagreement.
“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, according to Reuters.
The new legislation becomes one of the state’s Basic Laws, which act similarly to the U.S. Constitution, and are usually harder to repeal than regular laws.
Netanyahu and others in the right-wing government applauded the new declaration, however, many Arab lawmakers in the Knesset feel it further defines them as second-class citizens as it removes Arabic as an official language beside Hebrew, demoting it to a “special status.”
“You passed an apartheid law, a racist law!” Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Arab Joint List, yelled to Netanyahu as he was leaving the parliament. “Why are you afraid of the Arabic language?”
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said in a statement that Israel had created a law of “Jewish supremacy,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“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,” the statement read.
Israel is home to nearly 1.8 million Arabs, many of whom identify as Palestinians, making up about 20 percent of the state’s population, according to the BBC.
The law also defines the status of Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel, despite Palestinians claiming the city is the capital of their future state. (RELATED: Israel To Ban Some Left-Wing Speakers At Schools)
A few Jewish lawmakers are also opposed to the divisive bill.
“Its [the law] only purpose is to send a message to the Arab community, the LGBT community and other minorities in Israel, that they are not and never will be equal citizens,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the American Jewish organization J Street, said in another statement.
The bill’s sponsor, Avi Dichter, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says these words about the bill are mischaracterized and “fake news.”
The law “doesn’t harm the culture of minorities living in Israel, doesn’t damage their festivals and holidays and certainly doesn’t hurt the Arabic language, which remains a mother tongue for 1.5 million of Israel’s citizens,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
An earlier version of the law called for the creation of Jewish-only communities, but it was discarded after drawing criticism from both sides.
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