Israel a step closer to becoming a "Jewish state"

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters
Israel a step closer to becoming a "Jewish state"

Israel’s cabinet has breathed fresh life into attempts to codify the country’s status as a Jewish state.

A ministerial committee has approved a revised version of a bill first proposed in 2011.

Posting on Facebook, author Avi Dichter said it declares the “State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people”.

“(The bill) is an important step in entrenching our identity, not only in consciousness of the world but primarily in our own minds,” Dichter said.

Language and identity

Opponents say the bill only designates Hebrew as the country’s official language.

However, it requires government services and forms to be available in Arabic as well.

The revised legislation appears to soften previous language that would give Jewish values prominence in law-making and judicial decisions.

What happens now?

The legislation still has to go through further drafting by the Justice Ministry and pass several votes in parliament.

Commentators say this could be a lengthy process.

What difference will the bill’s approval make?

The cabinet-level step comes two weeks before a visit by US President Donald Trump.

Analysts say it could help Netanyahu shore up relations with far-right members of his government and underpin his campaign to press Palestinians to recognise Israel as the “nation-state” of the Jewish people.

What has been the reaction in Israel?

Centrists in Netanyahu’s government have argued a “nation-state” bill is unnecessary.

They say the 1948 Declaration of Independence has already proclaimed a Jewish state.

They have accused the prime minister of pandering to right-wingers.

What are the Palestinians saying?

Palestinians have described the decision as an obstacle to peace.

They say accepting Netanyahu’s call could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has characterised such “nation-state” legislation as putting “obstacles in the way of peace”.

What about Israel’s Arab minority?

Critics have described the proposed legislation, which also declares that the “right to self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people” as impinging on the rights of its Arab minority.

They make up an estimated 20 percent of the population.

“The nation-state law is tyranny by the majority and ‘legally’ turns us into second-class citizens,” Arab legislator Ayman Odeh wrote on Twitter after the cabinet committee’s decision.