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Knesset Passes Law Defining Israel as the Jewish Homeland

Knesset Passes Regulation Bill, Courtesy TIP, David Michael Cohen

JERUSALEM, Israel – Following nearly eight hours of debate Wednesday evening, the Knesset passed the nation-state law defining Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Its passage as a Basic Law, the laws that serve as Israel's de facto Constitution, means it will be woven into the very fabric of the country.

As expected, the opposition on the left – Zionist Union, Meretz and the Joint List (a coalition of Arab parties) – voted against the legislation, but it passed 62 to 55, with two abstentions.

Click here to read the Times of Israel's full translation of the 14th Basic Law.

Among its components, the law defines Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Hebrew as the official language, the Hebrew calendar as the state's calendar, the menorah as the official emblem and the Jewish and national holidays (Memorial Day and Independence Day) as national observances. It also defines Jewish settlement of the land as a "national interest."

"The state sees developing Jewish settlement as a national interest and will take steps to encourage, advance, and implement this interest."

A subtle change in wording from "a Jewish and democratic state" to "a Jewish state with a democratic regime" pleased many and angered others.

Following its passage, several MKs spoke from the podium.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin asked members of Zionist Union what they objected to.

"What is in this law that you are opposed to? Which part is unacceptable to you? Is the land of Israel not the homeland of the Jewish nation? Is it not our nation-state? Is our flag unacceptable to you?" YNet quoted him as saying.

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter, who first proposed the bill in 2011, advised his fellow lawmakers to "make history" or be "left out."

Avi Dichter (center) with former police commissioners David Cohen (left) and Moshe Karadi (right), Photo, GPO, Amos Ben Gershom

The Arab MKs were furious, calling the law "apartheid" and "racist." Senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip used similar rhetoric.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, who refers to Israel as "the occupation," declared it "the death of democracy."

MK Ahmad Tibi, Photo, GPO, Amos Ben Gershom

Dichter cited the law as the "clear-cut" answer to their accusations.

"When I listened attentively to the Joint List MKs, it was impossible to miss their clear words: 'We, the Arabs, will win. We are in our homeland. We were here before you and we will be here after you," he said, according to YNet.

"This Basic Law is the clear-cut answer to those who think that and it is clear: You were not here before us and you will not be here after us," he said, adding that they're welcome to live here as a national minority that enjoys equal individual rights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the bill's passage, saying it enshrines into law "the basic principles of our existence."

"Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, which respects the individual rights of all its citizens. This is our state — the Jewish state. Today we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag."

Many Israelis feel the same.

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