NEWS

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu promotes Jewish nation-state bill

11/16/2014 12:33 EST | Updated 01/16/2015 05:59 EST
Israel's prime minister said Sunday he's pushing forward a bill that enshrines in law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, adding a new complication to already tense relations with Arab-Israelis and Palestinians.

At his weekly cabinet meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu said the law would recognize Israel's Jewish character in addition to its already legislated democratic one. He says "the balance between these two facets is necessary" when Palestinians and others refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The bill has yet to be formally drafted and Netanyahu says it faces "many changes and discussions." One of its prime movers, lawmaker Zeev Elkin of Netanyahu's Likud party, is reportedly pressing for it to include provisions institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for future parliamentary legislation, and cancelling the status of Arabic as an official Israeli language, alongside Hebrew.

Arabs make up about 20 per cent of Israel's population and can be expected to strongly oppose the new law.

Netanyahu's decision to push the law forward may reflect pressures from right wing elements in his coalition, which favour advancing a nationalistic, religious-oriented agenda.

Some commentators believe that Netanyahu is supporting the law at its current stage to placate the right wing, but would not support its actual promulgation, fearing that it could further deepen Israel's already substantial international isolation and alienate an already aggravated United States.

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