A vote of 62 to 55 with two abstentions
Arab lawmakers protesting as Parliament passed a law on Thursday that defines Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” (Olivier Fitoussi/Associated Press)
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has long demanded that the Palestinians acknowledge his country’s existence as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” On Thursday, his governing coalition stopped waiting around and pushed through a law that made it a fact.
In an incendiary move hailed as historic by Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition but denounced by centrists and leftists as racist and anti-democratic, Israel’s Parliament enacted a law that enshrines the right of national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people” — not all citizens.
The legislation, a “basic law” — giving it the weight of a constitutional amendment — omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality, in what critics called a betrayal of Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which ensured “complete equality of social and political rights” for “all its inhabitants” no matter their religion, race or sex.
The new law promotes the development of Jewish communities, possibly aiding those who would seek to advance discriminatory land-allocation policies. And it downgrades Arabic from an official language to one with a “special status.”
Since Israel was established, it has grappled with the inherent tensions between its dual aspirations of being both a Jewish and democratic state. The new law, portrayed by proponents as restoring that balance in the aftermath of judicial rulings that favored democratic values, nonetheless struck critics as an effort to tip the scales sharply toward Jewishness.
Its passage demonstrated the ascendancy of ultranationalists in Israel’s government, who have been emboldened by the gains of similarly nationalist and populist movements in Europe and elsewhere, as Mr. Netanyahu has increasingly embraced illiberal democracies like that of Hungary — whose far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, arrived in Jerusalem for a friendly visit only hours before the vote.
With the political opposition too weak to mount a credible threat, and with the Trump administration providing a never-before-seen degree of American support, Mr. Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing and religious coalition in Israel’s 70-year history, has been pressing its advantages on multiple fronts.
It has sought to exercise more control over the news media, erode the authority of the Supreme Court, curb the activities of left-wing advocacy groups, press ahead with moves that amount to de facto annexation of parts of the West Bank, and undermine the police by trying to thwart or minimize the effect of multiple corruption investigations against the prime minister.