JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament passed a measure yesterday enabling the denial of state funding to institutions that question the country’s existence as a Jewish state, in a move criticised as targeting an Arab minority.
The so-called Nakba Law, using the Arabic word for “catastrophe” which is how many Palestinians regard the founding of Israel, passed by a vote of 37 to 25 after an angry debate among right and left-wing lawmakers.
Civil rights groups have denounced the measure as an effort to restrict freedom of expression to Arabs, who make up about a fifth of Israel’s predominantly Jewish population.
The law would enable the withholding of funds to public institutions deemed to be involved in publicly challenging the founding of Israel as a Jewish state or any activity “denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Many Israeli Arabs, as relatives of Palestinians who remained in what is now Israel when hundreds of thousands of others were driven away or fled during a 1948 war over Israel’s establishment, question whether Israel should be a Jewish state.
Unlike Palestinians living in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war, Israeli Arabs are fully enfranchised though many complain of discrimination.
Right-wing Israeli lawmakers who introduced the bill insisted it was intended to defend Israel against what they see as a growing number of attacks on its legitimacy because of a continuing conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab states.