Israel passes controversial nation state law likened to "apartheid"

The bill also says Jewish settlement development is of national value

Israel passes controversial nation state law likened to "apartheid"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem | Image: Ronen Zvulun/AP/Press Association Images

The Israeli parliament has passed a controversial bill that says only Jewish people have the right to national self-determination.

It also defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and removes Arabic as an official language.

Instead the language has been downgraded to a "special status", which will be determined by a separate law.

The bill was passed by 62 to 55, with two lawmakers abstaining, on Thursday.

The nation-state law also includes clauses that a "complete and united" Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that "The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation."

Immediately after the law was passed, some Arab lawmakers tore up copies in protest.

About 20% of Israel's population of nine million are Arab - with an additional 2.8 million Palestinians living in the Israel-occupied West Bank and about 1.7 million in the Gaza Strip.

It has been branded by some rights groups as 'racist'.

Adalah - the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel - has argued the law has "characteristics of apartheid".

In a position paper, Adalah said the law "falls within the bounds of absolute prohibitions under international law, and is therefore illegitimate as a colonial law with characteristics of apartheid."

Adalah director-general Hassan Jabareen added: "The Nation-State Basic Law is illegitimate, as it establishes a colonial regime with distinct apartheid characteristics in that it seeks to maintain a regime in which one ethnic-national group controls an indigenous-national group living in the same territory while advancing ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies in the most basic aspects of life."

The bill was hailed as a "defining moment in the annals of Zionism" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We will keep ensuring civil rights in Israel's democracy but the majority also has rights and the majority decides," he said.

Other aspects of the bill include that the Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state, official holidays are Jewish holidays and that the state will work to foster ties with Jewish Diaspora.