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Israel Passes Controversial Law That Defines It As A Nation For Jews

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Knesset passed controversial legislation making Israel the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” angering groups in Israel and the Diaspora.

The so-called Nationality Law enshrines in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.

It passed early Thursday morning after hours of contentious debate by a vote of 62-55, with two abstentions.

Much of the bill, sponsored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, deals with obvious signs that Israel is a Jewish state, such as affirming the symbols on the flag and shield, setting the Hebrew calendar as the country’s official calendar, recognizing Jewish holidays and days of remembrance, the national anthem and naming Jerusalem as the capital.

Other parts of the law, however, have raised the hackles of segments of Israeli society and the Jewish Diaspora. These include clauses relegating Arabic to a “special” status instead of an official language, promoting the establishment of Jewish communities throughout Israel and addressing the state’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry.

The chairman of the Arab Joint List party, Ayman Odeh, said in a statement that Israel has “declared it does not want us here,” meaning its Arab citizens, and that “we will always be second-class citizens.”

The American Jewish Committee said it was “deeply disappointed” that the Knesset passed the law. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in a statement called it “a sad and unnecessary day for Israeli democracy.”

The National Council of Young Israel, which represents the Orthodox synagogues of the Young Israel movement, praised the passage of the legislation.

Thousands of Israeli protesters, Jewish and Arab, marched through Tel Aviv over the weekend to protest discriminatory aspects of the legislation.

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher

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