Israel adopts divisive Jewish nation-state law

Benjamin Netanyahu in the

Israel passed a law on Thursday to declare that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country, something members of the Arab minority called racist and verging on apartheid. Arab MPs chided the law as racist.

The law, which had been in the works since 2011, has sparked a wave of protests, which spilled over the Israeli border and angered the influential Jewish diaspora in the US.

The law also declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the state's official calendar and recognizes Jewish holidays.

Shortly after lawmakers approved the bill, which, for the first time, enshrines Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people" in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, American Jewish leaders castigated the measure as codifying a system of discrimination against Arabs and other minorities.

Ahead of the vote, opposition members of the Knesset said the law meant to harm the status of Israel's Arabs, with several clauses downgrading the status of the Arabic language from an official language to one with "special status", according to the newspaper.

The government says the bill will formally place into law the country's existing status.

"This is a defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel", Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the vote.

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"With this law we determined the founding principle of our existence".

"Strong connection between Israel and Jews worldwide is based on these values that Israel is both a Jewish and democratic state", Ben Ami said, adding concerns the bill would "weaken the strength of Israel's democracy".

As the bill was narrowly passed, Arab MPs did not hide their frustration shredding their drafts to pieces in protest before confronting Netanyahu and storming out of the chamber.

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.

Largely symbolic, the law was enacted just after the 70th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. "It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens".

For instance, New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch called the bill "completely incompatible" with the "democratic foundation" of the Israeli state.

"This is a sad and unnecessary day for Israeli democracy", said Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents the largest Jewish denomination in the United States.

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