Netanyahu rejects criticism of nation-state law as nonsense

Prime Minister defends new law affirming Israel's Jewishness but writers call it a 'sin'


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Minister today robustly defended the controversial Nation-State Law, which asserts the country’s Jewish character, as opposition to it continued to mount.

Zouheir Bahloul, an Arab member of the opposition Zionist Union, announced he was quitting the Knesset in protest, while hundreds of Israeli artists and intellectuals including writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua branded the new law as a “sin”.

Leaders of the Druze community have petitioned the Supreme Court, calling for changes to safeguard the rights of minorities.

The law states that only the Jewish people has the right of self-determination in the state of Israel and downgrades Arabic from an official language to one of “special” standing.

But Mr Netanyahu today contented that the law did not alter Israel’s position as a Jewish and democratic state, offering “full equality of rights for all its citizens”.

The Prime Minister argued, “Does the fact that our flag has a Star of David invalidate the individual right of any Israeli citizen? Nonsense — this statement ensures that there will be no other flag.

“Does the statement that Hatikvah is our national anthem detract from the personal rights of anyone in Israel? Nonsense — it says there will be no other anthem.”

In an attempt to mollify the Druze, he said nothing in the law prejudiced their special standing and the people of Israel “love and cherish you”.

But Mr Bahloul said the law put the “Arab population officially, constitutionally outside the realms of equality in Israel”.

 Tzipi Livni, a leading member of the Zionist Union, called its passing an “ugly political event”. Her party, she said on Israel Army Radio, would have supported it had the bill included a reference to equality for all citizens.

The petition against the law from writers claims it "expressly permits racial and religious discrimination, nullifies Arabic as an official language alongside Hebrew, does not mention democracy as the foundation of the country and does not mention equality as a basic value.

“As such, the nation-state law contradicts the definition of the state as a democratic state and contradicts the Declaration of Independence on which the state was founded. These are two things that no Knesset has the right to do."

The law has attracted criticism from the diaspora, with even the Board of Deputies of British Jews taking the unusual step of  questioning the Israeli government.

There was concern that some of the measures in the law were “regressive steps”, said the Board’s senior vice-president Sheila Gewolb last week.

“All people should be valued and Israel’s Arab and other minority populations should be a treasured part of society,” she said.

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