Jerusalem: Israel’s parliament yesterday adopted a law defining the country as the nation state of the Jewish people, provoking fears it could lead to blatant discrimination against Arab citizens.
Arab legislators and Palestinians called the law “racist” and said it legalised “apartheid” following a tumultuous debate in parliament.
Others said it neglects to specify equality and Israel’s democratic character, implying that the country’s Jewish nature comes first.
The EU expressed concern and called for the rights of minorities to be respected.
The legislation, adopted by 62 votes to 55, makes Hebrew the country’s national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.
Arabic, previously considered an official language, was granted only special status.
The law speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a
“unique” right to self-determination there, according to its final text.
The legislation becomes part of the country’s basic laws, which serve as a de facto constitution.
A range of opposition politicians denounced the vote. The head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh called it “the death of our democracy”.
Arab parliament members who called the legislation “racist” ripped up copies of the bill in the chamber of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, after it was passed.
“This is a law that encourages not only discrimination, but racism as well,” MP Yousef Jabareen said.
Arab citizens account for some 17.5 per cent of Israel’s more than eight million population. They have long complained of discrimination.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called the legislation a “dangerous and racist law” that “officially legalises apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system”.
Turkey defined the legislation as a “racist” attempt to create “an apartheid state” discriminating against Israeli Arabs.
An EU official said they were “concerned” with the new law and were engaging with Israeli officials on the issue.
“We believe the basic principles, including when it comes to respect of minorities, needs to be assured and needs to be respected,” said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.