Working into the wee hours of the night late Wednesday into Thursday morning, the Knesset passed a nationality law that enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.”
The bill was approved in its second and third readings overnight, after hours of heated debate.
The law, which passed by a vote of 62-55, will be added to Israel’s Basic Laws, the underpinning of the national legal system, which is harder to repeal than regular laws.
The law calls Israel a Jewish and democratic state, and declares “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”
It also makes the Jewish calendar the official calendar of Israel, and recognizes Independence Day, Jewish holidays and Shabbat as national days of rest.
Arabic, while not an official language of Israel, is given “special” status, and will still be used in a public capacity for an array of public writings and services.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the new law as “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel.”
“We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens,” he said. “This is our state—the Jewish state. In recent years, there have been some who have attempted to put this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today, we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag.”
Uproarious debates over the legislation included Joint (Arab) List Knesset member Jamal Zahalka ascending the podium and ripping a printed copy of the bill to shreds. Fellow party member Ahmad Tibi decried the legislation as “the death of democracy.”
Though wording that would “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community” proved too controversial to remain in the law, a new clause celebrating and supporting “Jewish settlement” as a “national value” in Israel was placed in the legislation.