On July 19th, Israel adopted a new basic law that declares the country as the nation state of the Jewish people. In essence it declares that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country. Furthermore, it set Hebrew as the official state language, removing Arabic. Arabic, according to the law will now have a “special status”, thus making it still usable within Israeli institutions. The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays.
The “nation-state” law passed with a 62-55 backing, backed by the right-wing government, with two members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, abstaining. The legislation is defined as a “basic law,” granting it quasi-constitutional status.
Reuters reports that after the vote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset “This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel.”
A deeply controversial clause that had been seen as more specifically legalizing the establishment of Jewish-only communities was changed after it drew criticism, including from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, RTL reports.
Anews reports that it is likely that the law will face a challenge in the Supreme Court.
Opponents of the law say that it marginalizes the country’s Arab minority which numbers around 1.8 million, about 17.5% of Israel’s 9 million population.
As reported by Anews, Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, during the over-night debate, waved a black flag during his speech in parliament. His words were as follows: “This is an evil law,” he said and added that “a black flag hovers over it. 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,” Odeh said in a statement following the law’s passage. It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.” He further called it “the death of democracy”, as quoted by RTL.
In Ma’alot-Tarshiha, a municipality in northern Israel which was created by linking the Jewish town of Ma’alot and the Arab town of Tarshiha, there were sparks of anger among Arab residents.
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, called the law a bid to advance “ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies”. Most of the Arab population of Israel are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land after the conflict that culminated in the war of 1948. They have full equal rights under the law, however they claim they face constant discrimination, citing inferior services and unfair allocations for education, health and housing, Business Insider reports.
Reuters has quoted Bassam Bisharah, a 71-year-old Arab physician who claimed, “I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state.”
The law further declares “developing Jewish settlement as a national interest and will take steps to encourage, advance, and implement this interest.” Clearly showing that Tel Aviv shall continue its expansion in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The time at which the law is passed is also interesting, coming after an escalation of tensions along the Gaza Strip and one of the biggest attacks by Israel and retaliations from Hamas since 2014. It also comes after the closing of the Kerem Shalom crossing for all goods apart from food and medicine. As the law is relatively recent, the actual reactions of the international communities are still being formed, the Arab community in Israel has expressed its instant condemnation of the newly adopted law.