Arabic Downgraded in Contentious Jewish Nation Bill

Arabic Downgraded in Contentious Jewish Nation Bill

Thursday, 19 July, 2018 - 05:30
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Asharq Al-Awsat
Israel's parliament approved early Thursday a controversial piece of legislation that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people and downgrades the Arabic language’s status.

The legislation, adopted by 62 votes to 55, makes Hebrew the country's national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.

The government says it will merely enshrine into law Israel's existing character. But opponents say it marginalizes the country's Arab minority. One clause downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing.

Politicians took turns to passionately express their views for and against the bill in a rowdy, hours-long debate in parliament overnight.

But the law has provoked fears it will lead to blatant discrimination against Arab citizens.

A range of opposition members denounced the vote, with the head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh describing it as "the death of our democracy".

Odeh pulled out a black flag and waved it during his speech in parliament, warning of the implications of the law.

He said "this is an evil law" and added that "a black flag hovers over it."

Arab citizens account for some 17.5 percent of Israel's more than eight million population.

The new legislation becomes part of the country's basic laws, which serve as a de facto constitution.

"It is a decisive moment in the history of the state of Israel that inscribes in stone our language, our anthem and our flag," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the vote on the bill, backed by his right-wing government.

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