Turkey Accuses Israel of ‘apartheid’ Over ‘Jewish Nation-State’ Law

Istanbul says law is racist and 'disregards the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel' as EU also calls for rights of minorities to be respected

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at a ceremony site on
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at a ceremony site on "July 15 Martyrs Bridge" (Bosphorus Bridge) in Istanbul on July 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey on Thursday accused Israel of racism and becoming a state based on apartheid after a new law was adopted by the Israeli parliament defining the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

“We reject the Israeli government’s efforts to establish an apartheid state,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter, referring to the segregation of blacks and whites in white-ruled South Africa.

He condemned the law as a “racist step,” describing it as an effort to “legally erase” the Palestinian people “from their homelands.”

“We call on the international community to respond to this injustice that takes place in front of the eyes of the whole world,” Kalin wrote.

Early Thursday morning, the Knesset passed the law, which has been dubbed “the nation-state Law,” with 62 lawmakers voting in favor, 55 opposed, and two abstaining, after hours of heated debate in the Knesset chamber.

The nation-state law declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance, and Jewish holidays. One clause of the law downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Israeli government members praised the passage of the law on Thursday morning, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel.” Many in the opposition criticized the legislation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Knesset plenary session ahead of the vote on the National Law, July 18, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Turkish foreign ministry also criticized the law, saying it “tramples on the principles of universal law and disregards the rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

“The fact that the law presents the right to auto-determination as a right that only applies to Jews is the product of a mentality that is outdated and discriminatory,” it said.

Arab citizens account for some 17.5 percent of Israel’s more than eight million population. They have long complained of discrimination.

The issue is the latest source of tension between Israel and Turkey. Ankara ordered out Israel’s ambassador in May over the killing of protestors along the border with the Gaza Strip.

The strains have threatened a 2016 deal on normalizing ties following a 2010 Israeli naval raid on a Turkish flotilla trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The raid, in which IDF commandos were attacked by activists on board, left 10 Turks dead and several soldiers wounded.

Erdogan regards himself as a champion of the Palestinians and has twice held summits in recent months of Muslim states to denounce the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But analysts note that behind the rhetoric economic ties remain strong, with trade robust and both sides interested in the export of Israeli energy resources to Turkey.

The European Union in a press briefing also expressed its concern and called for the rights of minorities to be respected.

A spokeswoman said that the EU had previously voiced its concern at the bill, while stressing full respect for Israel’s sovereignty as a democratic country.

“Democracy and equality, including when it comes to the rights of minorities, are key rights that define our societies and must to continue to be the basis also of the partnership that we have with Israel and we believe that they should be upheld,” she said.