Knesset approves the Jewish nation-state bill, claiming Israel is ‘exclusively’ Jewish

The new law legitimises the settlements, “a national interest to be encouraged”. Twenty per cent of Israel’s population is Arab.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Knesset has passed into law a controversial bill that defines the country as an exclusively Jewish state. The Jewish nation-state bill was approved with a vote of 62 in favor, 55 against.

The law is Israel's 14th Basic Law. According to the text, only the Jewish people have the “right to national self-determination” in the country.

The law also has a clause about Israeli settlements, whereby “the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”.

The law strips Arabic of its status as an official language, downgrading it to a “special status”.

Some contested clauses were eliminated, such as one that would have permitted the creation of Jewish-only communities.  

Speaking moments after the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “This is a defining moment – long live the State of Israel.”

The law's sponsor, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee chairman Avi Dichter, turned to Arab MKs in the final address before voting and told them: “We were here before you, and we will be here after you”. From their side, the minority lawmakers tore up the bill in protest.

Israeli Arabs represent the 20 per cent of a population of nine millions. Most are Muslims with smaller Druse and Christians communities.

Despite having equal rights under the law, Arab citizens of Israel have always complained about discrimination and of being treated as “second class citizens”.