Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jewish Nation-State Bill Looks Ahead to Rule over Palestinian Majority

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jewish Nation-State Bill Looks Ahead to Rule over Palestinian Majority

Article excerpt

NEW LEGISLATION TO cement Israel's definition as a state belonging exclusively to Jews around the world is a "declaration of war" on Israel's Palestinian citizens, the minority's leaders have warned.

The bill, which defines Israel as the "national home of the Jewish people," passed its first vote in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on May 10, after it had receved unanimous backing from a government committee.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to get the measure on to the statute books as soon as possible, but it must first be redrafted by the Justice Ministry.

Among its provisions, the legislation-popularly known as the Jewish Nation-State Bill-revokes the status of Arabic as an official language, even though it is the mother tongue of one in five citizens: Israel's large minority of 1.7 million Palestinians.

The legislation affirms that world Jewry has a "unique" right to national self-determination in Israel, and calls for the government to further strengthen ties to Jewish communities outside Israel.

It also increases the powers of so-called "admissions committees," which block Palestinian citizens from living in hundreds of exclusively Jewish communities that control most of Israel's land.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has suggested that the redrafted bill, due within two months, will be even more hard-line, requiring judges to prioritize Israel's Jewish character over democratic principles. She said the legislation "will make the presence of Jewish values felt as a tool for judges."

In addition, critics are concerned that the legislation is intended to stymie any prospects of reviving peace talks with the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories. On a visit to the region in late May, U.S. President Donald Trump indicated that he is preparing to relaunch the long-stalled peace process. In a keynote speech, he said, "Peace won't be easy. We all know that-both sides face tough decisions, but Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal."

Netanyahu, however, has already stated that he will insist on a precondition that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. The new bill will effectively set out the terms of the state Abbas is expected to recognize.

Justifying the legislation to his Likud party supporters, Netanyahu said: "The bill establishes the fact that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people in our historic homeland."

He added: "There is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel."

However, leaders of Israel's large Palestinian minority strenuously disagreed.

Knesset member Ayman Odeh, head of the Palestinian-dominated Joint List party, warned that the legislation would ensure "the tyranny of the majority over the minority."

Under the bill, Hebrew alone will be an official language, with Arabic accorded only "special status." Palestinian citizens already complain that most public services and official documents are not provided in Arabic.

"The aim is to portray institutional racism in Israel as entirely normal, and make sure the apartheid reality here is irreversible," Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian Knesset member, said. "It is part of the right's magical thinking-they are in denial that there is an indigenous people here still living in their homeland. We are not about to disappear because of this law."

Zoabi and two other Palestinian legislators were ejected from the chamber after protesting against the bill at its first reading on May 10.

In strictly legal terms, the Jewish Nation-State Bill offers limited changes. Since its founding in 1948, Israel has defined itself as a state of the Jewish people rather than of all its citizens, including its Palestinian minority.

The Law of Return of 1950 allows only Jews to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship. Adalah, a legal rights group for Israel's Palestinian citizens, has documented dozens of laws that explicitly discriminate against Palestinian citizens. …

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