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7 May, 2017 12:40

Israeli ministers back nation-state bill delisting Arabic as official language

Israeli ministers back nation-state bill delisting Arabic as official language

A ministerial legislation committee has approved a controversial bill that seeks to enshrine Israel’s status as a nation state of the Jewish people, but critics say it would undermine democracy and could lead to discrimination of non-Jews.

The proposed bill would become a new Basic Law, which serve as Israel’s constitutional legislation. It would declare Israel a Jewish nation state and a unique realization of its right to self-determination. It would also set Hatikva as the country’s national anthem, describe the country’s national symbol and flag, and designate Hebrew as Israel’s only official language, although Arabic would be given special status. The bill also mentions the Right of Return – the right of ethnic Jews to receive Israeli citizenship.

Critics of the bill say it makes non-Jews de facto second-rate citizens in Israel, arguing that its emphasis on Jewish identity undermines the country’s commitment to being a democratic state, as is stated in its Basic Laws.

The legislation was drafted in August of 2011 by Avi Dichter, an MP for the ruling Likud party, and has been floating around in various versions since. The bill was one of the factors leading to the collapse of the Israeli coalition government in November of 2014, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of the legislation, clashed with then-Ministers Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, who opposed it.

After winning a snap election in March of 2015, Netanyahu pledged to eventually pass a softer version of the controversial bill, but has faced opposition from some of his new ministers. In October of 2015, it was shelved to the chagrin of its supporters, only to return to the agenda now.

The bill is set to go to a preliminary vote on Wednesday during the first week of the Knesset’s summer session, the Jerusalem Post reported. The Justice Ministry will draft its own version within 60 days, and the two bills will be combined.

“I’ve been working on the Jewish State bill for six years,” Dichter recounted. “Six years to establish the simple and most basic truth: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People.”

Zehava Gal-On, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, has criticized the proposed legislation.

“The result of the Jewish State bill is clear. Jews will get preference over all other citizens, clearly violating human rights, democracy, and the rights of the Arab minority in Israel,” she said.