Israel’s parliament early Thursday passed a highly controversial law that states only Jews in Israel have the right to self-determination and encourages Jewish settlement.
The so-called nation-state law passed 62-55 after nearly eight hours of fierce debate and harsh criticism, especially from Arab members of parliament.
Some Arab lawmakers angrily tore up copies of the bill, calling it the “death of democracy” and “peak of racism” in Israel.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the bill as a “defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel.”
Seventy years after the Jewish state was founded, the law declares, “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.”
But it also secures the right of all Israeli residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion.
“With this law, we determined the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and respects the rights of all its citizens,” Netanyahu said.
But despite Netanyahu’s assurance that Arab civil rights would not be violated, Arab lawmakers say the law includes a provision that downgrades Arabic from an official language to one with “special status.” They also say it gives Jews the right to build exclusively Jewish communities.
One parliamentarian called it an “apartheid” law and accused the government of being scared of the Arabic language.
Israeli Arabs are guaranteed full civil rights. But many complain of discrimination, especially when it comes to receiving government services.