Israel approves law that makes country a Jewish state

Cabinet votes 14-6 in favour after session ministers describe as ‘shouting match’

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.  Photograph: Jim Hollander/Reuters

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. Photograph: Jim Hollander/Reuters

 

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 the measure will leave them as second-class citizens.

A divided cabinet voted 14-6 in favour of the Bill yesterday 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 the law was needed because Palestinians refused to recognise 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 on Wednesday, when the Bill is due to be presented to the Knesset parliament for a preliminary vote.

The divisions have further strained Mr 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 yesterday 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.

Gaza man shot dead

Israel said 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 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. 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 was set on fire early yesterday in what appears to be another “price tag” attack by Jewish extremists. No one was hurt. Hebrew graffiti was sprayed on the wall of the house reading “Death to the Arabs”.