Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, approved the controversial nationality bill Thursday declaring Israel a nation-state for the Jewish people and downgrading the status of Arabic from official language to “special status.” Arabs make up 21 percent of Israel’s population.
The basic law, approved with 62 votes in favor and 55 against, recognizes the Jewish people in Israel “have an exclusive right to national self-determination." It also includes the declaration of a “united Jerusalem” as the capital of Israel, despite the fact that East Jerusalem is internationally recognized as being under Israeli occupation.
Furthermore, the law affirms "the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation."
"One-hundred-and-twenty-two years after Herzl (father of Zionism) published his vision, we've enshrined into the law the basic principle of our existence," prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, prising the law.
Legislator Avi Dichter of the ruling Likud party, who also sponsored the bill, explained “we are enshrining this important bill into a law today to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizens."
Zionist Union leader Tzipi Livni argued the bill sought to strengthen Netanyahu. “Netanyahu wants the bill in order to fight. Otherwise how will people know he is more of a nationalist than you’” she said.
Arab lawmakers protested the bill’s approval arguing it is a codification of apartheid and ripping papers in a symbolic gesture, which prompted Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to remove them from the plenum.
Legislators Ahmad Tibi and Ayeda Touma-Souliman yelled at Netanyahu: "You passed an apartheid law, a racist law."
"I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy," Ahmed Tibi told reporters.
Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, released a statement saying that Israel "passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens." Around 1.8 million Arabs live in Israel, they are the descendents of the Palestinians who remained in what is today Israel after the 1948 “War of Independence.”
Jewish Israeli peace activists also protested the bill by unfurling a large black flag in the Knesset.
The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, released a statement Thursday dubbing the bill a "colonial law with features of apartheid… It creates various avenues for segregation in land and housing and incentives based on the principle of 'advancing Jewish settlement' both in civil life and in obtaining citizenship based on the law of return and in language and in cultural rights in the name of self-definition."
Arab citizen of Israel and Haaretz journalist Janan Bsoul responded to the bill’s approval quoting a saying in Arabic “Water only turn clear after it’s been muddy. To be honest I’m happy this law passed. This… is exposing the dirty, it shows the degree to which Israel thinks it’s doing its Palestinian citizens a favor.”