Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
World Media | By Joan Schultz

Israeli Cabinet committee pushes bill that downgrades Arabic

Posting on Facebook, author Avi Dichter said it declares the "State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people".

The so-called Nationality Law is meant to serve as Basic Law, similar to a constitutional law, and would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The bill specifies the symbols of the state including the national anthem and flag, Jerusalem as the capital, the official language as Hebrew, the right of return to Israel for Jews around the world, Jewish settlement of the land, relations with the diaspora, the Hebrew calendar, and holy sites.

Following the preliminary vote by the Knesset plenum, which is scheduled for Wednesday, the bill will be combined with a Justice Ministry version.

Ministers gave their go-ahead Sunday to a controversial and long-debated proposal to officially define Israel as a Jewish nation-state.

Defining Israel as the "national home of the Jewish people" has also raised concerns among rights activists and others anxious over discrimination and attempts to further mix religion and state.

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He said that the bill counters Palestinian efforts to deny Jewish rights to Israel. On April 25, Netanyahu abruptly canceled a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after Gabriel refused to cancel a planned meeting with left-wing Israeli organizations Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem.

Although the bill has undergone some changes in the drafting process - not least removing language that would have seen Israel's democracy subordinated in importance to its Jewish identity - it remains highly contentious.

The bill was first put forward by Dichter in 2014 but, facing criticism from both opposition members and liberal-minded members of his own Likud party, it was shelved soon after. Centrists in Netanyahu's government have argued a "nation-state" bill is unnecessary.

They have accused him of pandering to right-wingers, and past versions of the legislation failed to make it through parliament.

Steinneier is on a three-day visit to Israel starting from Saturday and he would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday.

Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset representing the Balad party, said on Sunday the bill was a copy of previous sectarian laws placed in South Africa, and is therefore an "apartheid law". "The danger in this law in that it establishes two classes of citizen - Jewish and Arab", he wrote in a statement.

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