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Israeli parliament passes contentious Jewish nation bill

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Jerusalem: Israel’s parliament approved a controversial piece of legislation on Thursday that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people but which critics warn sidelines minorities. The government says the bill, passed in the early morning hours, will merely enshrine into law Israel’s existing character. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called its passage a “historic moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel.”

“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, which honours the individual rights of all its citizens,” he said. “I repeat this is our state. The Jewish state.”

Many young French Jewish people are moving to Israel because of growing anti-Semitism in France. This entails them having to do military service in the Israeli army. But many identify strongly with the Jewish state, 70 years after its founding.

 

“Lately, there are people who are trying to destabilize this and therefore destabilize the foundations of our existence and our rights,” he added. “So today we have made a law in stone. This is our country. This is our language. This is our anthem and this is our flag. Long live the state of Israel.”

Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence defined its nature as a Jewish and democratic state, a delicate balance the country has grappled to maintain for 70 years. Opponents of the new bill say it marginalizes the country’s Arab minority of around 20 per cent and also downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing.

The law passed with a 62-55 backing, with two members of the Knesset abstaining. The legislation, defined as a “basic law,” granting it quasi-constitutional status, will likely face a challenge at the Supreme Court.

Lawmakers took turns to passionately express their views in a rowdy, hours-long debate in parliament overnight. Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab Joint List, pulled out a black flag and waved it during his speech, warning of the implications of the law.

“This is an evil law,” he told lawmakers, adding that “a black flag hovers over it.”

“Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns … that the state has declared that it does not want us here,” Odeh said in a statement later. “It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.”

Benny Begin, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the founder of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, abstained from voting, warning of the party’s growing disconnect from human rights. “This is not a decision I expected from the Likud leadership,” he said.

Eugene Kontorovich, international law director at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Jerusalem think tank, defended the bill, arguing it “is similar to provisions in many Western democratic constitutions, which provide for an official language and national character that reflects the majority of the population.” Kontorovich dismissed the “faux outrage” against the bill as “simply another attempt to single-out the Jewish state and hold her to a double standard.” American Jewish organizations also expressed their disapproval of the law.

The American Jewish Committee, a group representing the Jewish Diaspora, said it was “deeply disappointed,” adding that the law “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic.” Jeremy Ben Ami, president of J Street, a Washington liberal pro-Israel group, said the bill’s purpose is “to send a message to the Arab community, the LGBT community and other minorities in Israel, that they are not and never will be equal citizens.”

 


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International

Threats to US would mean Iran’s end, warns Trump

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Washington: US President Donald Trump has asked Iran “never to threaten” the US and warned Tehran that if it wants a fight, it would be “the official end” of the Islamic nation.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted.

His tweets appeared to be a considerable shift in tone from the President’s brief remarks at the White House on May 16, when he responded “I hope not” after being asked whether the US and Iran were headed toward war, The Washington Post reported.

 

The White House has not officially responded to Trump’s tweets.

Trump issued his threat a few hours after the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Sunday that Iran does not fear a war but the US does, reports Efe news.

Salami said in a speech at a military ceremony broadcast on state-run Iranian TV that Tehran was not seeking war but did not fear it either, in contrast to the US, which is afraid of war and does not have the willpower to engage in one.

He also warned that the entire Middle East could become “a powder keg” for Washington.

Last week, the US decided to deploy to the Persian Gulf the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington, Patriot missiles, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and assorted warplanes, including bombers, after claiming that it had detected unspecified “indications” of Iranian plans to attack US forces in the Middle East.

In recent weeks, concern has been increasing that National Security Adviser John Bolton, a long-time hawk on Iran who was instrumental in instigating the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, might be working to edge the administration closer to some kind of military action against Tehran.

Last year, prior to bringing Bolton into the administration as one of his top advisers, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal. More recently, Trump has tightened economic sanctions against the Tehran regime and his administration says it has built up the US military presence in the region.

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White House unveils 1st part of Middle East peace plan

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Washington: The White House has unveiled the first part of its Middle East peace proposal, which is being deemed as an economic “workshop” to encourage investing capital in the West Bank, Gaza, and the region, a senior administration official told CNN.

The White House announced on Sunday that the workshop will take place in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25 and 26, bringing together finance ministers with global and regional business leaders.

The effort is being headed by Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who have spent years developing the proposal along with the much stickier political component, which officials said would be announced later in the year.

 

Kushner told CNN that “people are letting their grandfathers’ conflict destroy their children’s futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist”.

The senior administration official said that the plan will discuss four major components: infrastructure; industry; empowering and investing in people; and governance reforms “to make the area as investible as possible”.

The economic plan will also include a “combination of grant money, low interest loans and then also private capital”, the official said.

The workshop however, will avoid political issues such as whether the Palestinians will get their own state; the status of Jerusalem; measures Israel takes in the name of security; and what should happen with Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Israel around the time of the state’s creation in 1948, he added.

Finance ministers, but not foreign ministers, will be invited along with delegations of business leaders.

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told CNN that the plan was “futile”.

“Any economic plan without political horizons will lead nowhere… Palestinians will not accept any proposals which do not include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The decision on whether or not Palestinians would attend the workshop would be made by the leadership of Abbas, Abu Rudeineh said, adding that when a similar meeting was held in Washington in March 2018 to discuss ways of improving the economic and humanitarian situation facing Gazans, the Palestinians had chosen to stay away.

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Tourist bus near Egypt’s Gaza pyramids hit with bomb; injures 17

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Cairo: A roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17 people including tourists, Egyptian officials said. The officials said the bus was travelling on a road close to the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum, which is located adjacent to the Giza Pyramids but is not yet open to tourists.

The bus was carrying at least 25 people mostly from South Africa, officials added. The attack comes as Egypt’s vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.

The officials said security forces cordoned off the site of the explosion and the wounded were taken to a nearby hospital. The explosion damaged a windshield of another car, they said. Footage circulated online shows shattered windows of the bus.

 

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media. Atif Moftah, general supervisor of the Grand Egyptian Museum, said the explosion did not cause any damage to the museum, in a statement issued by the antiquities ministry.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the second to target foreign tourists near the famed pyramids in less than six months.

In December, a bus carrying 15 Vietnamese tourists was hit by a roadside bomb, killing at least three of them.

Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, hitting minority Christians or tourists. The insurgency gained strength after the 2013 military overthrow of the country’s first freely elected president, an Islamist whose brief rule sparked mass protests.

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