Israel Declares Itself 'Jewish State,' Jerusalem as Eternal Capital

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The law, known as the nation state bill, passed by a narrow 62-55 margin early on Thursday morning after hours of fractious debate between MPs in the chamber of the Knesset.

The "nation-state" law, backed by the right-wing government, passed 62-55 with two abstentions in the 120-seat Knesset after months of political debate and some parts were softened over concerns it would damage Israel's worldwide image.

Ahead of the vote, opposition members of the Knesset said the law meant to harm the status of Israel's Arabs, with several clauses downgrading the status of the Arabic language from an official language to one with "special status", according to the newspaper.

The sponsor of the law, Avi Dichter from Netanyahu´s Likud party, has said the law aims to defend Israel´s "status as a Jewish and democratic state".

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.

In a statement following the law's passage, Mr Odeh "today I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here".

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The bill would "remove the mask so as to reveal the ugly face of ultranationalist Israel in all its repugnance", Mordechai Kremnitzer, from the faculty of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in Israel's Haaretz newspaper last week.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the nation-state law features "key elements of apartheid".

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.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, pulled out a black flag and waved it during his speech, warning of the implications of the law.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and his Right-wing coalition government supported the bill.

The law passed after the changing of a clause that would have allowed the state to "authorise a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community".

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"If there had been another paragraph that also gives full equality to all citizens of Israel, then I would have been a lot more relaxed", he said.

However some clauses were dropped following objections by Israel's president and attorney-general, including a clause that would have enshrined in law the creation of Jewish-only communities.

Critics say it excludes the country's Arab minority, which makes up about 20 percent of Israel's population.

American Jewish organisations also expressed disapproval.

"I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy", Ahmed Tibi, an Arab lawmaker, told reporters.

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