Israeli opposition challenges controversial nation state law

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International desk: Israel’s parliament has debated a controversial law which declares the country the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people, after widespread protests erupted in recent weeks demanding that it be modified.

The special Knesset session on Wednesday convened after the opposition secured the 25 votes required to hold the debate. The opposition is demanding that the government include a provision guaranteeing equality for all Israeli citizens.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union, expressed her desire to see a version of the law that would describe Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people with full equality for all its citizens.”

Livni lambasted Netanyahu’s right-wing government for attempting to “dissolve the bonds between us [Jews and minorities] with his acid,” and pledged to replace the new nation state law with the country’s 1948 declaration of independence.

“We commit to bringing the principles of the Declaration of Independence back into our lives. That’s our commitment, and we will fight for it until we win the elections. Your time is over,” she said to leaders of the right-wing coalition.”

Critics say the new legislation, signed into law on July 19, makes Israel’s non-Jewish minorities into second-class citizens, further marginalising some 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and other smaller minorities, including the Druze.

The Basic Law, which has standing similar to a constitution, gives only Jews the right to self-determination. The law also strips Arabic of its official language designation, downgrading it to a “special status”.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Israeli Druze packed Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest the new law. The Druze, who make up two percent of Israel’s 8.8 million population, are an Arabic-speaking group with their own distinct religious and cultural traditions.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Jerusalem, said the debate inside the Israeli Knesset was unlikely to change anything in the short term, but added that it highlight the controversy surrounding the law.

“It highlights the concern not only from within here, from within the citizens of Israel but also Jews who have said that this [law] is a threat to what Israel says is the democratic and equal basis of the establishment of the state,” Dekker said.

“We are expecting similar size protests this Saturday called for by Israeli citizens, Palestinian citizens of Israel and others who say this is a law that is discriminatory and they do not agree with it.”

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