"The word that came to
Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of
Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken
to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel
and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to
the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall
take possession of it.””
Jeremiah 30:1 & 31:40
Israel's parliament approved a
controversial piece of legislation last week that
defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish
people but which critics warn sidelines minorities. The
government says the bill, passed in the early morning
hours, will merely enshrine into law Israel's existing
character. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called its
passage a "historic moment in the history of Zionism
and the history of the state of Israel."
"Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people,
which honors the individual rights of all its citizens,"
he said. "I repeat this is our state. The Jewish
state. "Lately, there are people who are trying to
destabilize this and therefore destabilize the
foundations of our existence and our rights," he
added. "So today we have made a law in stone. This is
our country. This is our language. This is our anthem
and this is our flag. Long live the state of Israel."
The legislation also addresses Jerusalem's status,
declaring that " Jerusalem, complete and united, is the
capital of Israel."
Israel's 1948 declaration of independence defined its
nature as a Jewish and democratic state, a delicate
balance the country has grappled to maintain for 70
Opponents of the new bill say it marginalizes the
country's Arab minority of around 20 percent and also
downgrades Arabic language from official to "special"
The law passed with a 62-55 backing, with two members of
the Knesset abstaining. The legislation, defined as a
"basic law," granting it quasi-constitutional status,
will likely face a challenge at the Supreme Court.
Lawmakers took turns to passionately express their views
in a rowdy, hours-long debate in parliament overnight.
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, pulled out
a black flag and waved it during his speech, warning of
the implications of the law.
"This is an evil law," he told lawmakers, adding
that "a black flag hovers over it." "Today, I
will have to tell my children, along with all the
children of Palestinian Arab towns ... that the state
has declared that it does not want us here," Odeh
said in a statement later. "It has passed a law of
Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be
Benny Begin, son of former Israeli Prime Minister
Menachem Begin, the founder of Netanyahu's ruling Likud
party, abstained from voting, warning of the party's
growing disconnect from human rights.
"This is not a decision I expected from the Likud
leadership," he said.
Eugene Kontorovich, international law director at the
Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Jerusalem think
tank, defended the bill, arguing it "is similar to
provisions in many Western democratic constitutions,
which provide for an official language and national
character that reflects the majority of the population."
Kontorovich dismissed the "faux outrage" against the
bill as "simply another attempt to single-out the
Jewish state and hold her to a double standard."
American Jewish organizations also expressed their
disapproval of the law.
The American Jewish Committee, a group representing the
Jewish Diaspora, said it was "deeply disappointed,"
adding that the law "puts at risk the commitment of
Israel's founders to build a country that is both Jewish
Jeremy Ben Ami, president of J
Street, a Washington liberal pro-Israel group, said the
bill's 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
"Strong connection between Israel and Jews worldwide
is based on these values that Israel is both a Jewish
and democratic state," Ben Ami said, adding concerns
the bill would "weaken the strength of Israel's
Lawmakers had removed the most contentious clause of the
bill on Sunday which would have allowed the
establishment of "separate communities" and which
critics had called racist.
Israelis, including President Reuven
Rivlin and attorney general, voiced opposition to the
earlier draft of the bill. Israelis opposed to the bill,
deeming it discriminatory, took to the streets to
protest in large numbers on Saturday in Tel Aviv.
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