Egypt rejects Israeli nation-state law as ‘racial segregation’

Egypt rejects Israeli nation-state law as ‘racial segregation’

Cairo joins Saudi Arabia and Syria in criticizing controversial new legislation, saying measure will undermine Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi addresses the chamber after he was sworn in for a second four-year term in Cairo, June 2, 2018. (Egypt’s presidency media office via AP)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi addresses the chamber after he was sworn in for a second four-year term in Cairo, June 2, 2018. (Egypt’s presidency media office via AP)

Egypt joined other Arab countries on Saturday in denouncing Israel for sanctioning “racial segregation” against Palestinians by passing the controversial nation-state legislation into law last week

The law passed by the Knesset on Thursday enshrines Israel for the first time as “the national home of the Jewish people” in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest, and downgrades Arabic from an official language to one with “special” status.

On Saturday, Egypt slammed the new Israeli law, saying it “consolidates the notion of occupation and racial segregation, and undermines the chances of achieving peace and reaching a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian issue.”

A statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the law could also affect the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees displaced since 1948, and urged the international community to push to resume negotiations and advance peace efforts in support of a two-state solution.

Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, in 1979, but relations have always been frosty due to popular Egyptian support for Palestinians. In recent years the two countries have enjoyed closer intelligence and security ties over their shared enmity toward Islamist terror groups and other common regional concerns.

On Friday, Cairo successfully brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Hamas terror group, amid escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip that raised fears of a wider military conflict.

The new law was also condemned by Saudi Arabia over the weekend. State media quoted a Riydah official as saying that Riyadh “rejects and disapproves” of the new law which “perpetuates racial discrimination against the Palestinian people.”

The official added that the law would be a barrier to ending the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting at the United Nations on March 27, 2018, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Bryan R. Smith)

Syria’s foreign ministry joined in lambasting the law, calling it “racist” and saying it “enshrines the racism of this entity (Israel) through an apartheid system that goes beyond the former apartheid system in South Africa.”

A Damascus official told the SANA news agency on Saturday the law was a US-backed assault on Palestinian rights to their homeland and a violation of international law.

“This Israeli law would not have been issued without the unlimited support provided by successive US administrations to this rogue entity,” he said, adding that the Trump administration’s recent relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem “came as a green light” for Israel “to pursue its aggressive policy and racism.”

Arab citizens account for some 21 percent of Israel’s more than 8.8 million population and have long complained of discrimination.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, slammed the law as discriminatory.

Adoption of the law “reflected the regime of racism and discrimination against the Palestinian people,” GCC secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani was quoted by Saudi state media as saying.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 27, 2018. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool Photo via AP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday called on the international community to intervene against Israel over the new law, calling the contentious piece of legislation “racist” and bristling at its affirmation of Jerusalem as the country’s capital.

Top Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said the law “officially legalizes apartheid and legally defines Israel as an apartheid system.”

Critics in Israel and abroad, including Diaspora Jews, have fiercely derided the legislation as discriminatory and unnecessary.

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.

AFP and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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