Israeli Cabinet committee pushes bill that downgrades Arabic

Israeli Cabinet committee pushes bill that downgrades Arabic

Israeli ministers approved a controversial bill on Sunday that would define the country as the "national home of the Jewish people" while downgrading Arabic as an official language.

The legislation is created to be enshrined in Israel's Basic Law, regarded as the closest approximation in Israel to a constitution.

Judaism is already mentioned throughout the country's laws, and religious authorities control many aspects of life, including marriage.

The bill's version however, failed to reach consensus within the government and the initiative to pass a law officially recognizing Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people had therefore been temporarily put on hold. Critics charge that, if passed, it could undermine Israel's balance of being both a Jewish and democratic state by harming the rights of the country's minorities. "To be a free people in our land", Dichter said in response to the decision.

But Palestinians say accepting Netanyahu's demand could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return. "Events of recent months prove that this is a battle for the Israel's image and national identity". Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has characterised such "nation-state" legislation as putting "obstacles in the way of peace".

About 17.5% of Israel's population are Arab.

The Knesset Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved today MK Avi Dichter's Nationality Law, despite the fact that the bill was frozen at the end of 2015. "Discrimination has received a legal stamp. The danger in this law in that is establishes two classes of citizen - Jewish and Arab", he said in the statement.

Erel Margalit, a contender for the leadership of the centrist Zionist Union party, called the bill "reminiscent of dark periods" in history. "The...law is an effort to erode the only democracy in the Middle East", he said.

Parliament member Ayman Odeh, who heads the mainly Arab Joint List alliance, said approving the bill would mean trampling on minority rights, adding it would "legally transform us into second-class citizens".

The notes accompanying the new bill say that its passage has become critical now, in light of attempts by foreign countries and global organizations to erode Israel's status as the homeland for all the Jews.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported that a ministerial committee backed a revised version of the law which asserts Israel is "the national home of the Jewish people".

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