Israeli lawmakers on Thursday passed a controversial law declaring that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country.
He said it "constitutionally enshrined the identity of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people only - despite the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the state, residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - and guaranteed the exclusive ethnic-religious character of Israel as Jewish".
The Arabic language was granted only special status.
The Jewish Nation-State Bill, passed just after the state marked the 70th anniversary of its birth, was hailed as a "defining moment in the annals of Zionism" by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Despite the text cryptically stating that provision "does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect", one US Jewish group cast that clause as harmful.
"Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here", said Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List Arab faction in the Knesset.
"This is an evil law", he said and added that "a black flag hovers over it". "With this law, we have determined the founding principle of our existence".
"I think this is racist legislation by a radical right-wing government that is creating radical laws, and is planting the seeds to create an apartheid state", said physician Bassam Bisharah, 71.
Parliamentarians from Israel's Arab sector, which makes up about 21 percent of the country's 8.5 million population, scoffed at his statement, saying the law was instead an expression of Jewish supremacy that had turned them into second-class citizens.More news: Donald Trump Acknowledges Russian Meddling in 2016 Election
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The law also instructs the state to preserve the Jewish heritage within the diaspora, and contains passages about national holidays, the flag and anthem and making the Hebrew calendar the official calendar.
Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the nation-state law features "key elements of apartheid".
Speaking ahead of the vote, Herzog warned that while fostering the Jewish state, the law might deal a blow to democratic values.
"I announce with shock and sorrow the death of democracy", Ahmed Tibi, an Arab politician, told reporters.
Those who remained have full equal rights under the law but say they face constant discrimination, citing inferior services and unfair allocations for education, health and housing.
As part of the protest campaign against the bill, activists from Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, waved a black flag in the Knesset balcony during the debate on Wednesday and early Thursday. Before it was adopted, 14 American Jewish organizations relayed their concerns to the incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who has been a vocal critic of the bill himself.
"The objective of this law is discrimination".
That was replaced by a vaguer clause which said it would "encourage and promote" Jewish settlement, after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin voiced fears it would lead to "discrimination and exclusion".