Israeli PM defends Jewish nation bill

The Israeli prime minister defended on Sunday a contentious piece of legislation meant to enshrine Israel's Jewish character that has drawn tens of thousands in protest against it.

Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Cabinet that the law has not harmed individual rights and that it was meant to protect Israel's status as a Jewish state for generations to come.

His remarks come after tens of thousands of members of Israel's Druze minority and their Jewish supporters packed a central Tel Aviv square Saturday night to rally against the law, which critics say sidelines Israel's non-Jewish citizens.

The rally marked the biggest backlash yet against the recently passed law that enshrines Israel's Jewish character and downgrades the standing of Arabic from an official to a "special" language.

The law has outraged Israel's Arabic-speaking minority which includes the Druze and makes up about 20 percent of the population. Critics say the law undermines the country's democratic values.

The Druze serve in the military, unlike most of the country's Arab citizens, who overwhelmingly follow Sunni Islam and have close family ties with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories. Over the years, members of the Druze community have risen to prominence in the military and in politics.


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