A Knesset usher removes Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset representing the Balad party, who was protesting the passage of a contentious bill, during a Knesset session in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 19, 2018. Israel's parliament appro
A Knesset usher removes Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset representing the Balad party, who was protesting the passage of a contentious bill, during a Knesset session in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 19, 2018. Israel's parliament appro

Israel has passed legislation that has been welcomed by Jewish nationalists but condemned by Arab citizens.

The Knesset, Israel's parliament, approved a new law that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it is a "historic moment in the history of Zionism and …the State of Israel."

Netanyahu said Israel's enemies have been trying to delegitimize its existence, but now Jewish statehood is enshrined in law.

"Long live the State of Israel!" he declared.

While Netanyahu's right wing coalition partners are elated, Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population, are outraged.

Knesset member Oren Hazan takes a selfie with Isra
Knesset member Oren Hazan takes a selfie with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and MP David Bitan, right of Netanyahu, after a Knesset session that passed of a contentious bill, in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 19, 2018. Israel's parliament approved a controversial piece of legislation early Thursday that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Opponents and rights groups have criticized the legislation, warning that it will sideline minorities such as the country's Arabs.

Arab legislator Ahmad Tibi says the new law is racist.

"The nationality bill is a hate crime," said Tibi. "They are totally discriminating against the Arab citizens, against the Arab minority."

Netanyahu said minorities have full rights in Israel, but he noted that the majority also has rights. He said the law ensures the Jewish majority for generations to come.

But critics say the bill does enormous damage to the State of Israel, whose image abroad is already battered due to its alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. In a radio interview, Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri said the last thing Israel needs is more bad publicity.

He said the law accomplishes nothing other than providing ammunition to Israel's detractors, including those who accuse the Jewish state of apartheid.

 

 

Special Project

More Coverage