Mu Xuequan
Xinhua (Analysis)
November 6, 2011 - 12:00am

A bill proposing defining Israel as the national homeland of Jewish people sparked heavy debate at the country's Knesset parliament on Sunday, drawing criticism from both left-of-center and Arab parties.

The bill, if approved, would legally define Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, as well as bolstering current legislation that makes Hebrew the country's official language, while giving Arabic a "special status," the Yediot Aharonoth daily reported.

Currently, both Hebrew and Arabic are official languages in Israel.

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has lacked a formal constitution, making do with so-called "Basic Laws."

Members of Knesset (MK) Avi Dichter (Kadima) and Zeev Elkin ( Likud) submitted the bill in August, on the grounds that once it becomes a Basic Law, the legislation will be included in a future constitution.

"It grants constitutional status to State symbols," Dichter said of the proposal.

"It is high time we cemented Israel's Jewish nature and symbols by law, especially given the constant attempts by anti-Zionist elements to disavow the country's Jewish and Zionist elements," Elkin said.

However, the bill raised concern among leftist and Arab groups in the Knesset who deemed the document as racist.

MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to reject the bill, arguing that it went against Israel's democratic nature.

Rivlin, however, denied Barakeh's petition, stating that he does "not believe that we must prevent the submission (of such bills), as we should not prevent other bills aiming to change the State's character from being put forward."

The proposed bill, which also addresses state symbols, the official flag, national anthem, and national holidays, will be debated by the Knesset Legislative Affairs Committee later this week.


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