Binyamin Netanyahu the Israeli PM, has argued that the law was needed because the notion of Israel as a Jewish homeland was being challenged. Opponents say the proposed law would reserve ‘national rights’ for Jews and not for the minorities that make up 20% of population.
A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character, reports the Guardian
Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.
The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.
Arab Muslims and Christians make up 20% of Israel’s population.
The cabinet passed the bill by a 14-7 majority after reports of rancorous exchanges during the meeting, including between the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his justice minister, Tzipi Livni.
The bill, which still requires the Knesset’s approval to become a law, comes as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians rise sharply, and friction within Israel’s Arab minority grows.
Opponents include two of the more centrist parties in Netanyahu’s fragile coalition – which say the bill is being pushed through with forthcoming primaries in the prime minster’s rightwing Likud party in mind – and senior government officials including the attorney general.
According to many critics, the new wording would weaken the wording of Israel’s declaration of independence, which states that the new state would “be based on the principles of liberty, justice and freedom expressed by the prophets of Israel [and] affirm complete social and political equality for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender”.