On August 11th, tens of thousands of Arabic and Jewish Israelis rallied the streets of Tel Aviv to protest against the “nation-state law.”
According to Times of Israel the protesters numbered approximately 30,000 people.
On Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, the protesters chanted “resist apartheid” and “we are all brothers” against the controversial law which proclaimed Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. The protesters waved banners demanding equality between the Jewish and the other nationalities and religions in Israel. The Palestinian citizens of Israel protested that the law will turn the non-Jewish in the country into second-class citizens.
Aida Touma-Suleiman from the Joint List Party was cited by RT. “We are here to call for equality, for full citizenship and equal rights on individual levels and on the rational level. We are here also to say “Netanyahu, you cannot decide to continue the occupation and to deny the rights of the Palestinians only by law”,” she said.
The quasi-constitutional law was accepted on July 19th, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government declares the right to national self-determination is uniquely Jewish. It stated that Hebrew is the official language of the state of Israel, downgrading Arabic to “special” status. The “nation-state bill” also establishes Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as a “national value” that the state must encourage.
On the previous Saturday, August 4th, the Druze minority protested against the same bill, under the motto “Equal rights for all citizens.” The Druze are an Arabic-speaking group with their own distinct religious and cultural traditions, they are about 2% of the Israeli population of 8.8 million people.
On August 4th, at least 50,000 Israelis attended the Druze-led demonstration against the law in the same Rabin Square, as reported by Times of Israel.
In a cabinet meeting on August 12th, Netanyahu denounced seeing the flags of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Tel Aviv. “Last night we received cogent testimony of the opposition to the existence of the State of Israel and the urgency of the Nation-State Law,” the Israeli Prime Minister said. “Many of the demonstrators want to abrogate the Law of Return, cancel the national anthem, fold up our flag and cancel Israel as the national state of the Jewish people and turn it –as their spokespersons said– into an Israeli-Palestinian state, and others say: A state of all its citizens,” Netanyahu told his ministers.
Close to 1.8 million Palestinians live in Israel and they are concerned with being marginalized. Netanyahu, however, claimed that other Israeli laws are designed to protect minorities. “The individual rights of its citizens are anchored very well in the basic laws and other laws. Now it is clearer than ever that the Nation-State Law is also necessary,” he said. “It is necessary in order to ensure the future of the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. We passed this law and we will uphold it.”
On August 12th, opposition members in the Israeli Knesset commented the left’s muted response to the the Arab-led rally against the nation-state law after it drew criticism for the presence of Palestinian flags at the event. Left-wing parties have previously strongly opposed the new law, however according to the Times of Israel most of them chose not to attend the rally on August 11th, due to fear of being associated with the display of Palestinian National Symbols.
Meretz MK Michal Rozin, cited by Times of Israel said that “Yesterday was a true test of democracy and equality.” He also accused Labor leader Avi Gabbay, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid of joining “Netanyahu’s system of hierarchical citizenship.”
She commented that “it’s not a big deal to demand equal rights for people you totally agree with. What is a big deal is standing for equality and against the nation-state law that discriminates against the Arab minority.”
Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin defended the absence of most opposition lawmakers, saying the call for Palestinian national rights of the rally was inconsistent with their political beliefs. “Regarding the Palestinian flags, they can protest however they like, but I cannot attend a protest if I don’t agree with the message. What concerned [the protesters] were things that were totally irrelevant to the law, like the right of return and [Palestinian] national rights,” she commented in a joint interview with Rozin.
The Israeli government has argued that the basic law anchors the country’s existing character and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already rooted in existing constitutional legislation. But critics from opposition and from abroad claim it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens, which is outlined in the Declaration of Independence.