An Israeli Cabinet committee gave initial approval Sunday to a bill that would define Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people" and revoke Arabic's status as an official language.
The controversial bill, which was unanimously approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, now heads to the Israeli parliament for a preliminary reading.
The "nation-state bill" states that "the right to realize self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people."
Avi Dichter, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party who proposed the bill, called the committee decision a big step in "defining our identity" and was needed to combat the goal of some Palestinians to erase Israel, according to the Times of Israel newspaper.
A similar bill failed in 2014. Hebrew and Arabic are Israel's current official languages.
The bill states that Hebrew would be the lone national and downgrades Arabic to "a special status in the state" whose "speakers have the right to language-accessible state services."
Critics slam the bill as discriminatory against Israeli Arabs, who make up more than 20 per cent of Israel's population of 8.7 million, as well as other minorities. If passed, critics say it could undermine Israel's balance of being both a Jewish and democratic state by harming the rights of the country's minorities.
An Arab-Israeli lawmaker slammed the committee's decision on Sunday, calling the bill the "tyranny of the majority" and warning that it would demote Arab-speaking citizens in society.
"The danger of this bill is that it creates two classes of citizens," the Times of Israel quoted Ayman Odeh as saying.
The legislation still has to go through further drafting by the Justice Ministry and pass several votes in parliament in what could be a lengthy process.
The cabinet-level step -- two weeks before a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump -- could help Netanyahu shore up relations with far-right members of his government and underpin his campaign to press Palestinians to recognize Israel as the "nation-state" of the Jewish people.
Such acknowledgement has been a key Netanyahu demand for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in 2014 and which Trump has pledged to pursue.
Palestinians say accepting Netanyahu's call could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has characterized such "nation-state" legislation as putting "obstacles in the way of peace".
In meetings in Israel, Trump will discuss how he plans to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a goal that has evaded many previous administrations. He is also scheduled to meet Abbas during the trip.
The revised legislation appeared to soften previous language that would have given Jewish values prominence in law-making and judicial decisions.
Centrists in Netanyahu's government have argued a "nation-state" bill is unnecessary, noting the 1948 Declaration of Independence already proclaimed a Jewish state. They have accused him of pandering to right-wingers, and past versions of the legislation failed to make it through parliament.
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