Netanyahu defends controversial Jewish nation law

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended a new law declaring Israel the Jewish people’s nation state, saying it did not harm minority rights despite it lacking references to equality and democracy.

The new legislation speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a “unique” right to self-determination there.

Netanyahu said other laws are already on the books guaranteeing equality for non-Jews and defining Israel as democratic.

“However, we have never determined the national rights of the Jewish people in its land in a basic law — until now, when we passed the nation state law,” Netanyahu said at a weekly cabinet meeting.

The law was passed in the middle of the night on July 19 and is part of Israel’s so-called basic laws, a de facto constitution.

It has been subject to harsh criticism in parliament and elsewhere. Arab lawmaker Zouheir Bahloul of the opposition Zionist Union party resigned on Saturday over it.

Hundreds of Israeli writers and artists have signed a petition calling on Netanyahu to “stop your government and coalition members from scourging minorities” and repeal the law.

Arab citizens make up some 17.5 percent of Israel’s more than eight million population.

Members of Israel’s 130,000-strong Druze community — who serve in the police and military — have also been among those strongly denouncing the legislation.

On Friday, Netanyahu met with Israeli Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif and a retired Druze general. He also met with Druze lawmakers on Thursday.

“There is nothing in this law that infringes on your rights as equal citizens of the state of Israel, and there is nothing in it that harms the special status of the Druze community in Israel,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Agence France-Presse