Knesset approves first reading of bill defining Israel as a Jewish state

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Knesset in a preliminary reading approved a bill that would officially define Israel as a Jewish state.

The Knesset vote on Wednesday was 48 to 41. Members of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid parties, which both serve in the opposition, voted against the measure, which reportedly has the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Three Arab-Israeli lawmakers from the Joint Arab List party were removed from the plenum hall, including one who ripped up a copy of the bill and shouted “apartheid.”

Avi Dichter of the ruling Likud party proposed the legislation. A similar bill was also proposed in 2011 and 2015.

The so-called Nationality Law is intended to serve as Basic Law, similar to a constitutional law, and would declare Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. It addresses national symbols, including the flag and the national anthem, the right of return for Jews, holy sites and the Hebrew calendar. It also calls for the government to work to strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

According to the legislation, “every resident of Israel, without distinction of religion or national origin, is entitled to work to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity.”

The bill would change Arabic from an official language to one with special status, though government services would still have to be available in the language.

It must pass two more readings to become law, but first has to go to the Justice Ministry, which has 60 days to draft its own version and combine the two before the vote.

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