Israel's parliament approved a controversial piece of legislation on Thursday that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people but which critics warn sidelines minorities. The government says the bill, which passed the Knesset by a 62-55 vote, will merely enshrine into law Israel's existing character. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called its passage a "historic moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel," the AP reports. "Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which honors the individual rights of all its citizens," he said. "I repeat, this is our state. The Jewish state."
"Lately, there are people who are trying to destabilize this and therefore destabilize the foundations of our existence and our rights," he added. "So today we have made a law in stone. This is our country. This is our language. This is our anthem and this is our flag. Long live the state of Israel." Opponents of the new bill say it marginalizes the country's Arab minority of around 20% and also downgrades Arabic language from official to "special" standing. Ayman Odeh, head of an alliance of four Arab-dominated parties, describes the law as "evil." The state "has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens," he said.
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