Sunday, November 23, 2014
The Israeli cabinet has endorsed a controversial Bill enshrining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, despite criticism by Israel’s Arab minority who fear that the measure will leave them as second-class citizens
A divided cabinet voted 14-6 in favor of the Bill after a session that ministers described as a “shouting match”. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly banged on the table and said “it cannot be that Arabs can live in Jewish towns, but Jews can’t live in Arab towns. A country within a country is developing.” He said that the law was needed because Palestinians refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Israeli Arabs were seeking autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev. “Israel is a Jewish democratic state. There are those who want democracy to take precedence over Judaism, and those who want Judaism to take precedence over democracy. In the law that I am bringing, both principles are equal and must be given equal consideration.” Centrist ministers voted against and have threatened to do so again, when the Bill is due to be presented to the Knesset parliament for a preliminary vote. The divisions have further strained Netanyahu’s coalition and he may be forced to dismiss ministers who vote against the Bill, which could lead to early elections. Two versions of the Bill were approved by ministers and a Knesset committee will merge the two after the Knesset passes the first reading. Both reinforce Israel’s national anthem and state symbols, use of the Hebrew calendar and the law of return, which grants any Jew the automatic right to emigrate to Israel. Arab Knesset members described the Bill as racist, noting that one version would leave Hebrew as Israel’s only official language. In separate developments, Israeli troops have shot and killed a Gaza man – the first fatality since the end of the 50-day war in August 2014. Israel said that troops opened fire on two men close to the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip, after first firing warning shots. Relatives of the 32-year-old man said that he had been searching for song birds, which nest near the border and command high prices in Gaza markets. An Israeli border police officer has been charged with manslaughter in the killing of a Palestinian minor during protests at the Bitunya West Bank crossing in May 2014. State prosecutors believed the officer used live ammunition and not rubber bullets, in violation of the rules of engagement, and also lied to military and police investigators. A home in a West Bank Palestinian village has been set on fire in what appears to be another “price tag” attack by Jewish extremists. Hebrew graffiti was sprayed on the wall of the house reading “Death to the Arabs”.