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Israel’s nation-state bill likened to apartheid

The EU expresses concern over the new law which declares that only Jews have the right of self determination

Occupied Jerusalem: Nationalistic legislation declaring Israel a national homeland for the Jewish people and prioritising Jewish-only communities was voted into law Thursday, one of a series of controversial bills approved this week by Israeli lawmakers that have alarmed opposition leaders and been described by critics as anti-democratic or even draconian.

The laws deal with a wide range of topics relating to the Jewish character of the state to the curtailing of left-wing groups critical of the government’s policies vis-vis the Palestinians.

They could have far reaching implications for Israel’s non-Jewish minority, weakening the rights of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and delegitimising those in Israel who defend them.

The nation-state law is perhaps the most contentious among them.

Its drafters say it is aimed at boosting Israel’s Jewish character and its passage into law Thursday was celebrated as a historic moment by Netanyahu and his cohorts.

Four years in the making, the legislation was packaged as a basic law and joins a dozen other powerful laws that form Israel’s constitution.

“This is a defining moment for the State of Israel,” said Netanyahu, speaking in the plenum after the law was passed.

“With this law, we have determined the founding principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citisens.”

Parliamentarians from Israel’s Palestinian sector, which makes up about 21 per cent of the country’s 8.5 million population, scoffed at his statement, saying the law was instead an expression of Jewish supremacy that had turned them into second-class citisens.

“Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here,” said Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List Arab faction in the Knesset.

“The law features key elements of apartheid, which is not only immoral but also absolutely prohibited under international law,” said Hassan Jabareen, general director of Adalah, a Palestinian human rights organisation in Israel.

He said it “constitutionally enshrined the identity of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people only – despite the 1.5 million Palestinian citisens of the state, residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – and guaranteed the exclusive ethnic-religious character of Israel as Jewish.”

The European Union on Thursday said it was concerned about a new Israeli law which declares that only Jews have the right of self determination, and said it would complicate a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Israel passed the “nation-state” law earlier on Thursday after months of political argument. It was sharply criticised by the country’s Arab minority, who called it racist and verging on apartheid.

“We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context,” a spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told a news briefing.

“We’ve been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution, we believe it is the only way forward and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided,” she said.

Two other laws also approved this week deal with the rights of Palestinians, not citizens of Israel, who live in the Occupied West Bank and the groups that advocate for them.

A law passed Tuesday places limits on Palestinian access to Israel’s High Court of Justice, redirecting administrative claims, for example over land or property rights, to the District Court.

Critics say the law is another step by Israel toward full annexation of the West Bank, land Palestinians hope to use for a future national state.

“This bill is not about law or justice, it is all about normalising the Israeli occupation and blurring the difference between Israel and the occupied territories that are under military rule,” said Roni Pelli of the Association for Human Rights in Israel.

“The explicit aim of the bill is to make things easier for Israeli authorities that harm Palestinians and to make it more difficult for them to achieve justice”

Roughly 400,000 Israeli colonists live in the Occupied West Bank, not including occupied East Jerusalem.

Also approved Tuesday was the so-called Breaking the Silence Law, which prevents individuals and groups that promote political action against the State of Israel or prosecution of Israeli soldiers abroad from speaking in Israeli schools.

It was named after an Israeli organisation that gathers anonymous testimonies from former Israeli combat soldiers who have served in the occupied territories.

Breaking the Silence’s Yehuda Shaul said a last-minute change to include all organisations that act to promote “political proceedings against the State of Israel” made the law particularly problematic.

“The term is so broad that it may apply to any institution, organisation, and activist who has met with a member of parliament, foreign institution, or political body,” he said.

“The question of what exactly is considered ‘political activity against the State of Israel’ will now need to be clarified in court cases.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, said Breaking the Silence, “had crossed the line of legitimate dialogue a long time ago when they chose to slander the State of Israel in the international arena.”

“As long as they act against the State of Israel and the Israeli army, I will not allow them to operate in the education system,” he said.

Another piece of controversial legislation aimed at removing and restricting online content defined by the authorities as inciting against Israel was withdrawn at the last-minute Wednesday by Netanyahu.

Snap analysis:

By: Layelle Saad GCC/Middle East Editor

Dubai: This bill should come as no surprise as Israel has taken drastic steps this past year in curtailing the rights of Palestinians.

This comes amidst the backdrop of a supposedly “historic” Mideast peace plan in the works, championed by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Very little is known of this plan but so far negotiators have been extremely tight-lipped on its details.

Palestinians expect the proposal to be extremely one-sided and biased—which is fitting given that Trump’s administration is considered to be the most pro-Israeli American administration to date.

Under Trump, Israeli colony expansion in the Occupied West Bank has sky-rocketed although it has always been steadily growing over the years.

Israel occupied the West Bank and Jerusalem during the 1967 war in a move never recognised by the international community.

Critics of the deal say Israel intends to annex major swathes of the West Bank.

This bill could be paving the way for such a move.

Already, the US has moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem in an unprecedented move earlier this year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be banking on passing such legislation urgently, while Trump is still in office.

The American president is currently facing domestic backlash over reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and possible collusion.

While it remains unclear whether Trump will be impeached, emerging evidence could possibly implicate him.

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