MPs declare Israel an exclusively Jewish nation state

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Israel's parliament is set to vote on a controversial piece of legislation that would define the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The bill states that "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people" and "the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people".

The bill enshrines Hebrew as the only official language of the state, stripping Arabic of that status, and names Jewish settlement as a priority.

Israeli government officials praised the passage of the law on Thursday morning, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it "a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel".

The government says the bill only enshrines into law what had always been integral to Israel's existing character, but the country's minority Arabs, which make up about 20 percent of the country's 9 million people, see the change as akin to establishing apartheid.

Arab parliament members who called the legislation "racist" ripped up copies of the bill in the chamber of the Knesset, Israel´s parliament, after it was passed.

Jeremy Ben Ami, president of J Street, a Washington liberal pro-Israel group, said the bill's goal is "to send a message to the Arab community, the LGBT community and other minorities in Israel, that they are not and never will be equal citizens". "It denies the Arab citizens their right to self-determination to instead be determined by the Jewish population".

A range of opposition politicians denounced the vote.

Adalah, a legal centre for Arabs living in Israel, called the law "illegitimate" and "colonial".

MPs declare Israel an exclusively Jewish nation state
MPs declare Israel an exclusively Jewish nation state

Israel's 1948 declaration of independence defined its nature as a Jewish and democratic state, a delicate balance the country has grappled to maintain for 70 years.

Barhoum also asserted that the Knesset would not have passed the law, as well as others that he identified as "extremist", without what he called "regional and worldwide silence on the occupation's crimes".

Liberal leaning US Jewish groups that have lobbied against the nation-state bill were quick to condemn it.

Two other laws also approved this week deal with the rights of Palestinians, not citizens of Israel, who live in the West Bank and the groups that advocate for them.

Daniel Sokatch, the head of the New Israel Fund, described the law as "tribalism at its worst" and a betrayal of Jewish and democratic values that creates first and second-class citizens.

One section that was dropped would have instructed courts to rule according to Jewish ritual law when there were no legal precedents.

President Reuven Rivlin blasted the openly discriminatory measure earlier this month, saying it "could harm Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel".

The bill allows the state to encourage the establishment of communities for Jews only.

Settlements in the occupied West Bank are viewed as illegal under global law and a major impediment to a viable Palestinian state in the future.

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