Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters Thursday at his office in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
July 19 (UPI) -- Israeli lawmakers passed a Jewish nation-state bill Thursday, that's been steeped in controversy, after a long debate.
The bill officially defined Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It says Jerusalem is the united capital and the official language is Hebrew, with Arabic having "special status."
Lawmakers voted in favor of the bill 62 to 55 after a contentious debate between lawmakers who saw it as a victory for the Jewish people and Arab lawmakers who saw it as a defeat.
"In the Middle East, only Israel respects [rights]," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "This is our country, the Jewish state. In recent years there have been those who have tried to undermine that and question the principles of our existence. Today we made it into law: This is the country, the language, the anthem and flag."
Netanyahu added it was "a Basic Law of Nation, a defining moment in the history of the State of Israel," in a Twitter post.
"We engraved our language, our anthem and our flag in the rock of law. We have promised the fact that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Long live the state of Israel!"
Bill sponsor Avi Dichter said during debates before the vote that the "basic law doesn't hurt the culture of minorities living in Israel."
However, the bill prompted ire from Arab lawmakers who tore copies in protest after the law passed.
Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, released a statement saying Israel "declared it does not want us here" and that it had "passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens," Haaretz reported.
The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said in a statement "the nation-state law is a colonial law with features of apartheid, which is prohibited by international law because it contradicts the international treaty that bans apartheid crimes. It creates various avenues for segregation in land and housing and incentives based on the principle of 'advancing Jewish settlement' both in civil life and in obtaining citizenship based on the law of return and in language and in cultural rights in the name of self-definition." "