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Israel's Jewish state bill: assessing the wider impact

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Reprinted from Middle East Eye

Netanyahu wants to "upgrade" discrimination in Israel to help secure his rule in the occupied territories, say experts

From Israel lifts age limit for Muslim men praying at Jerusalem holy site
Israel lifts age limit for Muslim men praying at Jerusalem holy site
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NAZARETH, Israel: There could hardly have been a more fitting piece of political theater this week as Palestinian legislators in the Israeli Parliament criticized a controversial new bill defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The proposed legislation, which was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Sunday, is expected to get its first reading in the parliament, or Knesset, next week.

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It is designed to demote Arabic -- spoken by the fifth of the population who belong to the country's Palestinian minority -- from its current status as an official language, and makes "Jewish tradition" and "the prophets of Israel" a primary source of legal and judicial authority.

More specifically, it formally defines Israel as belonging to Jews around the world rather than to its citizens, which includes 1.5 million Palestinians.

Critics, including the Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, and the government's chief legal adviser, Yehuda Weinstein, have warned that the legislation will undermine democratic safeguards protecting the rights of Israel's Palestinian citizens.

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In explaining the need for the bill, Netanyahu told his ministers it was important that "there are national rights only for the Jewish people -- a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel and other national symbols."

In a raucous parliamentary debate on Monday, two Palestinian members of the Knesset were ousted from the chamber by Deputy Speaker, Moshe Feiglin, as they lambasted the legislation.

One of them, Jamal Zahalka, had tried to quote from Hannah Arendt, a Holocaust survivor and philosopher, who had foreseen that a Jewish state would be incapable of offering its Palestinian minority proper rights or citizenship.

When Feiglin, a far-right member of Netanyahu's Likud party, raised doubts about the source material, Zahalka observed that Arendt was the "opposite" of Feiglin, whom he called a "fascist." On Feiglin's orders, Zahalka was summarily ejected by ushers.

"As I was being escorted out, I called to Feiglin that he had the honour of being the first one to put the Jewish nation-state law into practice," Zahalka told Middle East Eye.

Clashing worldviews

The Knesset clash was a graphic illustration of the opposing worldviews at the heart of the struggle over Netanyahu's proposed Basic Law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

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Few human rights activists doubt that the new legislation, if passed, will severely harm the prospects for Israel's Palestinian minority of ever living in peace or equality with their Jewish compatriots. In the words of Menachem Klein, a professor of politics at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, the bill "upgrades discrimination."

In protest, hundreds of Palestinian citizens changed their Facebook profile photos this week to one stamped "Second-class citizen."

i100 @thei100 Follow

Israeli Arabs are now putting "second class citizen" stamps on their Facebook profiles
10:51 AM - 26 Nov 2014

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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