Israeli Cabinet committee pushes bill that downgrades Arabic

The bill was initially much farther reaching than that, seeking to declare the right of self-determination within the State of Israel to be "unique to the Jewish people", and by extension declaring that Israeli Arabs had no such rights.

Sponsored by Avi Dichter, a member of Netanyahu's overtly nationalist Likud party, the bill has been promoted as necessary to "set in law our national identity while remaining a democratic state".

Therefore, it downgrades the status of the Arabic language from an official second language to "a special status in the state, allowing its speakers the right to language-accessible state services".

The provocative bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday and now waits to pass a number of rounds of legislation in the Israeli parliament, Knesset, for further readings before becoming law.

The Israeli government coalition had tried in the previous parliament to push for two proposals of the "nation-state bill".

Critics say the law is discriminatory and could undermine Israel's balance of being both a Jewish and democratic state by harming the rights of minorities.

Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, a political alliance of four Arab-dominated parties in Israel, called the Ministerial Committee decision a "declaration of war" on Israel's Arab citizens.

Mr. Netanyahu maintained, "There is no contradiction between the [proposed] law and equal rights for all of Israel's citizens", pointing out that it says all citizens have a right to their own culture, heritage and language. Under such a Basic Law, Israeli law must be interpreted according to this principle. "Discrimination has received a legal stamp".

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, a contender for the leadership of his party, said that the bill was "reminiscent of dark periods" in history. "The bill establishes the fact that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People in our historic homeland", he said at a Likud faction meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his backing to the controversial Jewish nation-state bill Monday.

The legislation enshrines the notion of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and outlines what this means from a practical perspective.

The legislative committee's chairman, Yariv Levin, also a Likud MP, said he had made a decision to put an end to foot-dragging over the bill. Dichter argued that none of Israel's 11 Basic Laws deals with the identity or definition of the Israeli state.

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