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Israel adopts controversial Jewish nation-state law

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Israel’s parliament on Thursday adopted a law defining the country as the nation state of the Jewish people, provoking fears it could lead to blatant discrimination against Arab citizens.

Arab lawmakers and Palestinians called the law “racist” and said it legalised “apartheid” following a tumultuous debate in parliament.

Others said it neglects to specify equality and Israel’s democratic character, implying that the country’s Jewish nature comes first.

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The European Union expressed concern and called for the rights of minorities to be respected.

The legislation, adopted by 62 votes to 55, makes Hebrew the country’s national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.

Arabic, previously considered an official language, was granted only special status.

The law, passed in the early hours of Thursday, speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a “unique” right to self-determination there, according to copies of the final text quoted by Israeli media.

However, a deeply controversial clause that had been seen as more specifically legalising the establishment of Jewish-only communities was changed after it drew criticism, including from President Reuven Rivlin.

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The legislation becomes part of the country’s basic laws, which serve as a de facto constitution.

“It is our state, the Jewish state, but in recent years some have tried to question that as well as the principles of our existence and our rights,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the vote on the legislation, backed by his right-wing government.

He called its approval a “decisive moment” in Israeli history.

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– ‘Death of democracy’ –

A range of opposition politicians denounced the vote. The head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance Ayman Odeh called it “the death of our democracy”.

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Arab parliament members who called the legislation “racist” ripped up copies of the bill in the chamber of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, after it was passed.

“This is a law that encourages not only discrimination, but racism as well,” lawmaker Yousef Jabareen said.

Arab citizens account for some 17.5 percent of Israel’s more than eight million population. They have long complained of discrimination.

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Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called the legislation a “dangerous and racist law” that “officially legalises apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system”.

Turkey said the legislation “trampled” on universal law and the rights of Israeli Arabs.

AFP / Marc Israel SellemIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Knesset session ahead of the vote on the National Law on July 18, 2018

The sponsor of the law, Avi Dichter from Netanyahu’s Likud party, has said it aims to defend Israel’s “status as a Jewish and democratic state.”

But others pointed out that references to “Jewish and democratic” in earlier versions of the law had been removed and that the law lacked references to equality as specified in the country’s 1948 declaration of independence.

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The head of the respected Israel Democracy Institute think tank, Yohanan Plesner, called the law “an unnecessary embarrassment” to the country.

The institute’s Shuki Friedman said much of the law is symbolic, but it would force the courts to consider the country’s Jewish nature and lead to a more “narrow interpretation of Arabs’ rights”.

By emphasising Israel’s Jewish nature, it is “reducing, not directly but indirectly, its democratic nature,” Friedman told AFP.

– Rightward shift –

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Various versions of the legislation have been debated for years.

Netanyahu’s government, seen as the most right-wing in the country’s history, had pushed for the law’s approval before the parliament’s summer session ends.

The legislation passed after a clause was changed that would have allowed the state to “authorise a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community”.

Rivlin, whose role as president is mainly symbolic, had made a rare intervention in politics earlier this month to raise alarm over the clause.

The legislation “could harm the Jewish people worldwide and in Israel, and could even be used as a weapon by our enemies,” he wrote in an open letter.

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“Do we want to support the discrimination and exclusion of men and women based on their ethnic origin?”

The passage of the law continues Israel’s rightward shift in recent years amid frustration with failed peace agreements with the Palestinians and steady growth in settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu has been in power since 2009, after having also served as premier between 1996 and 1999, and religious nationalist settlement advocates wield heavy influence in his current government.

Parliament’s term expires in November 2019, but there has been speculation that Netanyahu, facing a potential corruption indictment, will opt for polls before then and could use the passage of the law to boost his popularity with his base.

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#PresidentPelosi Trends After Sondland Testimony Implicates Pence in Trump Ukraine Scheme

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The hashtag #PresidentPelosi was trending Wednesday as Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified to the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump's Ukrainian schemes for assistance in the 2020 election and implicated Vice President Mike Pence in the effort.

If Trump and Pence are both removed from office over their involvement in the plot, the next in line for the presidency is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"I'm fine with Pelosi serving as interim president until we hold an election," tweeted activist Bree Newsom. "Both Trump and Pence are implicated in this conspiracy to extort Ukraine."

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Trump claims not to ‘know’ Gordon Sondland very well — but the evidence suggests otherwise

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President Donald Trump attempted to distance himself Wednesday from his hand-selected European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. At the same time, Trump claimed that Sondland’s stunning testimony, which alleged that the president had ordered a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, in fact, vindicated him.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland said in his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday. "The answer is ‘yes.’”

Sondland further claimed that “everyone was in the loop” and all actions were “directed” by the president.

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Seth Meyers can’t stop laughing at Devin Nunes: ‘It’s like murdering someone and calling their ghost to testify’

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"Late Night" comedian Seth Meyers summed up the day of hearings by saying it was devastating to President Donald Trump. If you don't believe him, he showed the humiliating clip of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who looked dejected.

"Wow, look at his face!" Meyers said. "He looks like he just walked in on his parents having sex -- with someone else's parents. There's only two explanations for that face, either he just heard lengthy testimony detailing a criminal scheme so shocking to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump. Or he sharted, and he's trying to remember how far away his back-up pants are."

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