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Israeli opposition challenges controversial nation state law

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni criticised the Netanyahu government for failing to guarantee equality of all Israelis.

Israel's parliament has debated a controversial law which declares the country the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people, after widespread protests erupted in recent weeks demanding that it be modified.

The special Knesset session on Wednesday convened after the opposition secured the 25 votes required to hold the debate. The opposition is demanding that the government include a provision guaranteeing equality for all Israeli citizens.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union expressed her desire to see a version of the law that would describe Israel as the "nation-state of the Jewish people with full equality for all its citizens."

Livni lambasted Netanyahu's right-wing government for attempting to "dissolve the bonds between us [Jews and minorities] with his acid," and pledged to replace the new nation state law with the country's 1948 declaration of independence.

"We commit to bringing the principles of the Declaration of Independence back into our lives. That’s our commitment, and we will fight for it until we win the elections. Your time is over," she said to leaders of the right-wing coalition."

Critics say the new legislation, signed into law on July 19, makes Israel's non-Jewish minorities into second-class citizens, further marginalising some 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and other smaller minorities, including the Druze.

The Basic Law, which has standing similar to a constitution, gives only Jews the right to self-determination. The law also strips Arabic of its official language designation, downgrading it to a "special status".

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Israeli Druze packed Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest the new law. The Druze, who make up two percent of Israel's 8.8 million population, are an Arabic-speaking group with their own distinct religious and cultural traditions.


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