Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Israel's new government plans to pass a controversial new law defining the country as a "national state of the Jewish people" despite the presence of 1.5 million Arabs within its borders
The move is likely to be denounced as weakening Israel's democratic principles while triggering accusations of official discrimination against Arabs, who form around 20% of the population. The legislation is being proposed under an agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Beiteinu bloc and the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, who will form part of a new governing coalition along with two other parties. It will be enshrined in Israel's Basic Law – the country's equivalent of a constitution - and lay down that The State of Israel is the National State of the Jewish People. A similar bill introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency, was shelved amid an outcry over provisions that included recognizing Hebrew as the sole official language while depriving Arabic of its equal status. It also strictly defined the country's flags, emblems and national anthem while requiring the state to promote Jewish settlement in all areas. No such requirement applied to other groups. Proponents argued that it was aimed at preventing Israel becoming a bi-national state. Critics countered that it prioritized Israel's Jewish identity ahead of its democratic values. The Jewish Home party's leader Naftali Bennett opposes a Palestinian state and instead favors annexing large parts of the West Bank.