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Israeli cabinet votes for ‘Jewish state’ draft law

The draft law considers Israel as "the national homeland of the Jewish people"

Published: Updated:

The Israeli government on Sunday approved a controversial proposal that considers Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, raising questions about the future of Israel’s non-Jewish population.

Following a stormy meeting, the cabinet voted 14 to six in favor of the proposal, with ministers from the two centrist parties -- HaTnuah led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid of Finance Minister Yair Lapid -- voting against, media reports said.

The draft legislation still needs to be approved in parliament to become a law, but the government’s decision looks to further escalate tensions with Arab Israelis and Palestinians. It could also destabilize Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government due to the fierce opposition of two of his more centrist partners.

The bill calls for recognizing Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation, and delisting Arabic as an official language. Opponents say the bill undermines Israel’s democratic character, and rights groups have called it racist, the Associated Press reported.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population and strongly oppose the bill.

If the proposal becomes law, it would mean “the institutionalization of racism, which is already a reality on the street, in both law and at the heart of the political system,” warned Majd Kayyal of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

“Democracy guarantees that all citizens have the same rights and are equal before the state but this racist change introduces a distinction on the basis of religion,” he said.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the government’s legal adviser, has also criticized the proposal, saying it weakens the state’s democratic character.

Last week, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni managed to postpone an earlier attempt to put the proposal to the vote.

Denis Charbit, a political scientist at Israel’s Open University, predicted that a final version of the text is likely to be more moderate.

“This is a political charade. Netanyahu knows that voting on an unacceptable bill which has been criticized by the government’s legal adviser is extremely problematic,” he told AFP.

“The text proposed by Netanyahu is more moderate but it is still problematic because he disassociates the Jewish character from the democratic character of the state and this institutionalizes a hierarchy between them, to the detriment of democracy.”

[With AFP]