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Israel Bill To Legalize Anti-Arab Policies, Say Critics

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Controversial draft legislation would – among other things – eliminate Arabic as official language in Israel

The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) this week approved a preliminary reading of a draft law which, if passed, would eliminate Arabic as an official state language and which describes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

A preliminary reading of the bill, which critics say would serve to legalize discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens, was approved Wednesday.

Forty-eight Knesset members voted in favor of the draft law while 41 voted against in a tumultuous session that saw two Arab lawmakers -- Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalqa -- removed from the assembly.

In a statement, the Knesset declared that the legislation would serve to formalize Israel's status as the “national home of the Jewish people”; Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital; and Hebrew as the country’s sole official language.

The description of Israel as a “Jewish national home”, critics note, would put the country’s roughly 1.4 million Arab citizens -- who account for some 20 percent of the national population -- at risk of being treated as second-class citizens.

No less contentious, the law also calls for gaps in Israeli legislation to be filled by Jewish religious law; for Jewish holidays to be made official state holidays; for giving Jews the sole right to determine the state’s future; and for Jews all over the world to maintain the right to return to Israel.

The law would also see the elimination of Arabic as an official state language in Israel -- a status it has enjoyed since the country’s establishment in 1948.

Because Israel has no written constitution, the bill -- if passed -- would be incorporated into the country’s “basic laws”.

Two additional readings of the bill must still be approved before the draft legislation is officially adopted.

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