Israeli cabinet approves ‘Jewish state’ bill

The bill that defines country as “Jewish state” now heads towards parliamentary vote in a blow to Israeli Arabs.

Netanyahu has been accused of 'wanting a religious state' in the context of the bill, reports say [Reuters]

The Israeli cabinet has approved a bill declaring Israel a Jewish state in a controversial move seen as intensifying discrimination against Arabs residing in occupied territories.

Ministers voted 14 to six in favour of the bill, which is threatening the unity of the governing coalition.

The bill will now be referred to the Knesset, or parliament, where legislators will see it for the first time on Wednesday.

The Times of Israel, which described the bill as “controversial”, said it was debated by cabinet members behind closed doors but their screams were “loud enough for reporters in the hallway to hear much of the discussion”.

Addressing his cabinet, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said: “Israel is the Jewish, nationalist state for the Jewish people with equal rights for all citizens.”

“The reason why the bill is so divisive is this language of defining Israel as a home state for the Jewish people alone,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyeb, reporting from Jerusalem, said.

“What is problematic about the law in its current form is that if it does get passed, and is enshrined in Israel’s legal system, it would effectively mean that those who do not self-identify themselves as Jews become second class citizens,” he said.

The law would grant the government the authority to strip all rights off any Arab resident who took part in, or incited, violence, even stone-throwing.

Netanyahu said the proposed bill would complement the policy of demolishing the family homes of those involved in attacks on Israelis which his government adopted in annexed Arab East Jerusalem earlier this month despite condemnation by human-rights watchdogs.

“It cannot be that those who attack Israeli citizens and call for the elimination of the state of Israel will enjoy rights such as national insurance, and their family members as well, who support them,” Netanyahu said.

“This law is important in order to exact a price from those who engage in attacks and incitement, including the throwing of stones and firebombs,” his office quoted him as saying.

But critics see it as a bid from the PM “to score cheap points now that he is sensing that the elections are nearing,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent said.

Yesh Atid, finance minister and head of the Yair Lapid party, said: “This is a law that Ben-Gurion and Jabotinksy would have opposed.”

Local media said several ministers accused Netanyahu of “wanting a religious state”, and proposing a legislation that “will ruin our democracy”.

The debate, which took place during the cabinet’s weekly meeting, happened at the same time as Gilad Erdan, interior minister, used existing powers to revoke the residency of a Palestinian who had already served 10 years in prison for his role in a 2001 bombing.

Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem has been hit by months of unrest, which has spread across the occupied West Bank and to Arab communities inside Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem have residency rights but not Israeli citizenship. Their residency entitles them to freedom of movement as well as social benefits, such as national insurance or health insurance, and its revocation entails loss of those benefits.