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Israel approves law to become national homeland of the Jewish people

The new legislation also allows the state to strip Arabs of their residency and welfare rights if they or their relatives take part in unrest.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

ISRAEL’S GOVERNMENT HAS endorsed a proposal to anchor in law the country’s status as the national homeland of the Jewish people, drawing fire from critics who said it weakened democracy.

“The cabinet today approved a draft basic law: ‘Israel the national state of the Jewish people’” said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, one of whose MPs was a sponsor.

Netanyahu also announced a separate initiative to strip Arabs of their residency and welfare rights if they or their relatives take part in unrest.

Following a stormy meeting, the cabinet voted 14 to six in favour of the national homeland 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.

“National homeland”

The proposal would mean Israel would no longer be defined in its Basic Laws as “Jewish and democratic” but instead as “the national homeland of the Jewish people”.

Critics, who include the government’s top legal adviser, say the proposed change to the laws that act as Israel’s effective constitution could institutionalise discrimination against its 1.7 million Arab citizens.

By giving preeminence to the “Jewish” character of Israel over its democratic nature, the law in its current format is anti-democratic, they say.

The Israel Democracy Institute said that the state’s Jewish identity is already contained in its 1948 declaration of independence.

IDI president Yohanan Plesner said in a statement:

However, that declaration also emphasises the Jewish State’s absolute commitment to the equality of all of its citizens — an essential component missing from the proposals being presented to the government today.

Netanyahu insisted the law would give equal weight to both characteristics.

“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic… both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree,” he said.

The proposal has provoked uproar among MPs and ministers from the centre and the left, who fear the text only institutionalises discrimination.

There are also concerns about a plan to revoke the rights of any Arab resident who took part in or incited violence, even stone-throwing.

“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 told ministers.

Israel’s Arab minority, comprising some 20% of the population, are descendants of Palestinians who stayed after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

- © AFP, 2014

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