Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The Israeli cabinet has approved a controversial new bill declaring Israel to be a ‘Jewish state’.

Critics say the bill will intensify discrimination against non-Jews in Israel, who account for 20% of the population, but ministers said the law was needed because the state¹s Jewish character was under threat.

The bill authorises that all rights be stripped from non-Jewish citizens who take part in, or incite, violence, including stone-throwing. The IDF already demolishes the homes of the family of those involved in acts of violence.

Dismissing Muslim and Christian fears, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: ‘This law is important in order to exact a price from those who engage in attacks and incitement.’

However analyst Imtiaz Tyebit said: ‘It would effectively mean that those who do not self-identify themselves as Jews become second class citizens’.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem have residency rights but not Israeli citizenship. Residency entitles them to freedom of movement and national insurance, but these rights could now be revoked.

The bill, which still requires the Knesset’s approval, split the ruling coalition, with shouting matches widely reported from behind closed doors.

“This is a law that [David] Ben-Gurion and [Ze¹ev] Jabotinksy would have opposed,” said Finance Minister Lapid.

Others have asked how this affects Israel’s declaration of independence, which affirms ‘complete social and political equality for all its  citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender’.

Netanyahu insisted the law was needed, saying: “There are many who are challenging Israel’s character as the national state of the Jewish people.”

In a swipe at his centre-left coalition partners, he added: “I don’t understand those who call for two states for two peoples but who oppose anchoring this in law.”

But the bill had more to do with Netanyahu’s political posturing ahead of next year’s election, said Lapid, revealing that he had spoken to the family of Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman killed in last week’s attack on a Jerusalem synagogue.

“What will we tell his family?” he asked. “That he is a second-class citizen in the state of Israel because someone has primaries in the Likud?”