Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the opening of the Knesset's winter session, on October 14, 2013 in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the opening of the Knesset's winter session, on October 14, 2013 in Jerusalem © Gali Tibbon - AFP/File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the opening of the Knesset's winter session, on October 14, 2013 in Jerusalem
AFP
Last updated: February 25, 2014

Israeli law distinguishing Christian and Muslim Arabs stirs Palestinian outcry

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A new Israeli law giving Muslim and Christian Arab citizens separate representation on a national employment commission drew fire from the Palestinians on Tuesday.

"This law aims to create a new reality among our people based on religion and not national identity," Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.

Israel's parliament on Monday passed into law a bill expanding the equal opportunities commission from five to 10 members, and giving separate seats for the first time to representatives of Christian and Muslim Arab workers' groups.

"We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within," Haaretz daily quoted the bill's sponsor, Yariv Levin, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, as saying.

It also sets aside seats for Druze, ultra-Orthodox Jews and families of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, all groups which have higher than average unemployment.

The bill was passed three months ahead of the first trip to the Holy Land by Pope Francis, who is to visit Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem from May 24 to 26.

The Israeli Arab community has its roots in the 160,000 Palestinians who remained inside Israel following its creation in 1948. Today they and their descendants number around 1.3 million out of a total Israeli population of 7.9 million.

Israeli Arabs enjoy full citizenship and are allowed to vote but have long complained of official discrimination.

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