Israel’s parliament (Knesset) has adopted a controversial bill that declares the occupying entity “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” in what is widely criticized as an apartheid measure that could lead to discrimination against its own Arab population.
The law was passed by a vote of 62-55 after a long and stormy debate early on Thursday.
The law prioritizes “Jewish” values over democratic ones in the occupied territories, declares Jerusalem al-Quds the “capital” of Israel, allows Jewish-only communities, sets Hebrew as the official language of Israel and relegates Arabic from an official language to one with “special status.”
Speaking moments after the bill passed into law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the vote as a “defining moment in the annals of Zionism.”
Immediately after the bill passed, Arab lawmakers tore it in protest, calling it an instance of “apartheid.”
The bill has been compared to South African apartheid by Israeli lawmakers, but Netanyahu had repeatedly said its passage is one of his top priorities.
Arab members of the Knesset Ahmed Tibi and Ayeda Touma-Souliman yelled at Netanyahu, “You passed an apartheid law, a racist law.”
“Why are you afraid of the Arabic language?” Tibi lashed out at Netanyahu.
Members of the Arab minority in the Israeli-occupied territories also condemned the bill as racist and verging on apartheid.
“I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state,” said physician Bassam Bisharah, 71.
“The purpose of this law is discrimination. They want to get rid of the Arabs totally,” said Yousef Faraj, 53, from the Druze village of Yanuh. “The Israelis want to destroy all the religions of the Arabs.”
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, described the law as a bid to advance “ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies.”
As part of the protest campaign against the bill, activists from Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, waved a black flag in the Knesset balcony during the debate on Wednesday and early Thursday.
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List alliance in the Israeli parliament, also raised a black flag during the debate against the legislation.
The law had drawn criticism by a wide range of NGOs and rights groups as a racist bill that would divide the society. Arabs in the occupied territories form about 20 percent of the population.
The bill would “remove the mask so as to reveal the ugly face of ultranationalist Israel in all its repugnance,” Mordechai Kremnitzer, from the faculty of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper last week.
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