Outrage and concern as Israel passes 'apartheid' law
Rights group Amnesty International was among those on Thursday who criticised the controversial legislation passed by the Knesset overnight, saying in a tweet that it "entrenched & exacerbated 70 yrs of inequality & discrimination against non-Jews".
The legislation allows Israel to "authorise a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community".
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One clause downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing.
Lawmakers removed a clause allowing the establishment of "separate communities" that was criticised as racist, replacing it with a clause encouraging "Jewish settlement".
Israel's government says the law, which has constitution-like standing, enshrines the country's Jewish character into law, but opponents say it marginalises the country's Palestinian citizens, which number some 1.8 million, about 20 percent of the 9 million population.
Top Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said on Thursday the law "turns a 'de-facto' Apartheid regime into a 'de-jure' reality for all of historic Palestine".
"This law builds up on dozens of racist and discriminatory laws against non-Jews, being an extension of racist and colonialist practices that aim at burying the rights of the Palestinian people," Erekat said in a statement.
The European Union said it was concerned it would complicate a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"We are concerned, we have expressed this concern and we will continue to engage with Israeli authorities in this context," a spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told a news briefing.
"We've been very clear when it comes to the two-state solution, we believe it is the only way forward and any step that would further complicate or prevent this solution of becoming a reality should be avoided," she said.
EU envoy Emanuele Giaufret previously said the law "reeks of racism".
Turkey has also condemned the law, with presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin stating it is "unacceptable to accept this racist step aiming to legally erase the people of Palestine from their homeland".