Israeli Knesset to vote on Jewish Nation-State Bill

If passed, the law will define Israel exclusively as nation of Jewish people, marginalising 1.8 million Palestinians.

    The Basic Law would marginalise 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship [File: Reuters]
    The Basic Law would marginalise 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship [File: Reuters]

    The Israeli parliament is due on Wednesday evening to vote on a controversial bill that seeks to define Israel exclusively as "the nation-state of the Jewish people", local media reported.

    On Monday, a parliamentary committee approved the final draft of the bill. It has since been fast-tracked since the Israeli cabinet endorsed it in March, meaning that Wednesday's vote at the Knesset will turn the bill into law, if it passes the second and third readings.

    If approved, the new Basic Law, which carries greater weight than normal legislation, would marginalise 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and would strip Israel of its "democratic" component that is in its definition, critics have warned.

    Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament have condemned the bill, calling it a "Zionist flagship bill".

    In advance of Monday's vote, Aida Touma-Suleima, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, said in a video she posted on her official Facebook page: "Now when we start the discussion on the Jewish State Bill in the Knesset, finally the Zionist extreme right wing put the official stamp on the Apartheid Israeli regime."

    Similarly, Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi warned of the bill's "dangerous" nature.

    "The nationality bill is dangerous. It is threatening what remains of a so-called 'democracy'. It is targeting the Arab minority in Israel," he said.

    Land annexation 

    The legislation - known as the Jewish Nation-State Bill - revokes the status of Arabic as an official language, leaving only Hebrew as the country's official language.

    Additionally, it would allow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to expand the state's annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

    The bill considers the expansion of the Jewish-only settlements a national value. It also encourages and promotes their construction.

    Israel had already been expanding and planning to construct new settlement complexes that are considered illegal under international law.

    In the legislation's first draft, the bill was meant to also increase the powers of so-called "residential admission committees", which have the ability to market state lands and to determine prerequisites for residency - but legislators removed the clause after it was criticised as racist.

    In almost half of Israeli towns, residential admission committees already filter out Palestinian applicants on the grounds of "incompatibility with the social and cultural fabric".

    Since 2002, Israel has also been building a separation wall that is still under construction, annexing Palestinian land inside the West Bank despite widespread international condemnation. 

    A first version of the contentious bill was initially introduced in 2011 by a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party.

    Israel's government has argued that the bill, which has constitution-like standing, preserves the nation's Jewish character into law.

    It will likely face a Supreme Court challenge if passed.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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