Bill allowing ‘Jewish-only’ towns sparks row in Israel
The introduction of draft legislation that would allow the establishment of "Jewish-only" communities has triggered controversy in Israel.
While the so-called "national law" bill enjoys the support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is opposed by President Reuven Rivlin and several opposition parties.
The Joint Arab List, which is comprised of 13 Arab-Israeli members of the Knesset (Israel's parliament), has condemned the bill, a first reading of which was approved by the assembly in April.
The Joint Arab List has described the draft law as the "most racist" legislation to ever be embraced by Israel's current right-wing government.
Introduced by Netanyahu's Likud Party, the draft states: "The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established, and the State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people, in which they apply their natural, cultural and historical right to self-determination."
It adds that "the right of national self-determination in the State of Israel is specific to the Jewish people. Hebrew is the language of the state, while Arabic has a special status in the state".
Contentiously, the law also appears to allow for the establishment of "Jewish-only" communities in Israel from which Arab citizens would be barred.
According to Israel's official statistics bureau, the self-proclaimed Jewish state's total population stood at some 8.5 million at the end of last year, roughly 20 percent of whom were Arab.
In an open letter to the Knesset's constitution, law and justice committee, Rivlin voiced his objection to the draft law.
"Are we willing to approve the establishment of communities based on their [ethnic] background?" he asked.
Surprisingly, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party has also announced its intention to oppose the law.
The party apparently fears that the legislation could affect hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have yet to be legally recognized as Jews.