Discriminatory Israeli law
There are currently over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens in Israel and Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The adoption of a controversial law by Israel declaring the country essentially being first and foremost a Jewish state may complicate a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and, lead to blatant discrimination against its 1.8 million Palestinian citizens.
The legislation, passed by Israel's parliament last Thursday by 62 to 55 votes, makes Hebrew the country's national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.
It granted Hebrew the "state language" status effectively putting it above Arabic which has for decades been recognised as an official language alongside Hebrew. Arabic has been given "special status" enabling its continued use within Israeli institutions.
The legislation also stipulates that "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it." It declares the "undivided" city of Jerusalem as the complete and united…Capital of Israel." A part of Jerusalem is claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their future state.
"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.
However, Benny Begin, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the founder of Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, abstained from voting, warning of the party's growing disconnect from human rights. "This is not a decision I expected from the Likud leadership," he said.
Various versions of the legislation have been debated over the years. Netanyahu's government, seen as the most right-wing in the country's history, pushed for the legislation's approval before parliament's summer session ends.
Israel does not have a constitution. The legislation becomes part of the country's series of basic laws, which serve as a de facto constitution.
Nearly 20 per cent of Israel's nine million strong-population comprises Israeli Arabs, many of whom identify as or with Palestinians. They have equal rights under the law but have long complained of being discriminated against when it comes to services such as education, health, and housing.
According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, there are currently over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens in Israel and Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging.
Israel's status as a Jewish state is politically controversial and has long been debated. It seems that fear over the high birth-rate of Israeli Arabs as well as possible alternatives to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which could challenge Israel's Jewish majority) have led to calls to anchor the Jewishness of Israel in law.
It also appears to have stemmed out of fear by many Jewish politicians that the founding principles of Israel's birth as a state for Jews in their ancient homeland are under threat and could become less relevant or obsolete in future.
The new law will deepen a sense of alienation within the Palestinian Arab minority. It entrenches into Israeli law what already is an active policy of segregation and discrimination by the authorities. It also establishes Jewish supremacy and tells Arabs that they will always be second-class citizens.
Arab lawmakers and Palestinians have called the law "racist" and legalisation of "apartheid". The Arab parliamentarians also tore copies of the Bill in the Knesset chamber, Israel's parliament, after it was passed.
Ahmed Tibi, one of the legislators said: "I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy."
The legislation has been slammed by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). However, there has been a virtually mute reaction from western countries.
The law not only "perpetuates racial discrimination" against Palestinians but also contradicts international law, reported the state-run Saudi Press Agency citing a Saudi foreign ministry source.
The adoption of the law "reflected the regime of racism and discrimination against the Palestinian people," GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al Zayani said. GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and UAE.
In a strongly worded reaction, Saeb Erekat, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, has called the legislation as a "dangerous and racist law" that "officially legalizes apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system."
Turkey described the legislation as a "racist" attempt to create "an apartheid state" discriminating against Israeli Arabs.
European Union expressed concern over the development and said: "we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context."
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that "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."
The adoption of the law reflected Israel's continued rightward shift in recent years amid anguish and frustration with failed peace agreements with the Palestinians and, steady growth in settlement building in the occupied West Bank. The law shows ethnic superiority by promoting policies that are viewed as racist.
(The author is former Editor of PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. Views expressed are strictly personal)