Tens of thousands of Arab Israelis and their supporters chanted against “apartheid” and for “equality” on Saturday in central Tel Aviv at a rally protesting a law that declares Israel the nation state of the Jewish people.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest in a march under the banner “No to the nation-state law, yes to equality,” Saturday night in Tel Aviv organized by The High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel against the Jewish nation-state law.
The march, organized by The High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, drew more than 30,000 people into central Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, organizers said.
It was the second such demonstration against the law since last Saturday, when thousands from Israel’s Druze minority took to the streets in Tel Aviv to denounce the law they say makes them second-class citizens.
Palestinian flags were raised at the demonstration in spite of a request made by the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee not to wave the flag.
The flag was raised by several activist members of the Arab Knesset party Balad, which had criticized the request made by the committee.
Yael Valia, a 45-year-old woman who works for a start-up, waved an Israeli flag and described herself as a “Zionist”, adding that “this is why we must guarantee equality for all the citizens of this country”.
Next to her, an Arab Israeli psychologist and mother of two, Watan Dahleh, carried one of her children on her back and held the hand of the other.
She said she brought them to the rally “because their future is at stake”.
Demonstrators were chanting “Bibi go home, Bibi go home”, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has come under a lot of pressure over the nation state bill.
Netanyahu later commented on the Arab-led rally and the Palestinian flags being waved, saying “we will continue to raise the Israeli flag and sing Hatikva (national anthem) with pride.”
Opposition lawmaker and leader of Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, also commented on the rally and the Palestinian flags, saying “I wonder what would have happened to those who would have tried to march in the center of Ramallah with Israeli flags.”
Amos Shoken, publisher of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was also present at the rally and urged Arab Israelis “not to despair” and to continue to mobilize against the controversial law.
וגם זה: לדברי פעיל חד״ש זו התרסה של אנשי בל״ד נגד ועדת המעקב. תוכן הוידאו – ״ברוח בלדום נפדיק יא עזה. בדם ובאש נגן על עזה״ pic.twitter.com/brA5Sqomnv
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) August 11, 2018
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni from Zionist Union party said she would not participate, nor would Labour leader Avi Gabbay attend the rally.
“I can’t go to a protest where they are calling for the ‘right of return. I can go to a protest that calls for equal rights,” Gabbay told Hadashot TV.
Israel’s left wing party Meretz, however, encouraged its members to join the Arab-led rally. Meretz head Tamar Zandberg slammed the bill when it passed in parliament, saying it effectively divided Israel into classes.
At least five court challenges have been filed against the nation-state law, and it will now be up to judges to decide whether to limit its interpretation.
But Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelbit has defended the law as having “no practical significance” and its vague wording means it as little to no effect.
Israel’s Arab political leadership hopes the protest will be the beginning of an enduring popular struggle against what they claim is a discriminatory law.
Arab lawmaker and head of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh, told Ynet that “thousands of Arabs and Jews are making their way to Tel Aviv with a democratic and ethical message (against) the nation-state law. A democratic state must be a state for all its citizens.”
The highly-contested nation-state Basic Law passed by a 62-55 margin in parliament last week, speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and says they have a “unique” right to self-determination within its borders.
Israel, which lacks a traditional constitution, holds its basic laws as preeminent, as they are meant to guide the judiciary and require a supramajority in parliament in order to be overturned.
The law’s backers say it strengthens the state’s status as a homeland for the Jewish people and note it was backed by a slim majority of the country’s lawmakers.
Polls published earlier this week found that just over half of voters support the legislation.
Arab citizens, who make up some 17.5 percent of Israel’s more than eight million population, have strongly criticized the law, particularly those from Israel’s 150,000-strong Druze community, who, unlike other Arabs who may volunteer, are subject to compulsory service in the military or police alongside Jewish Israelis.
Last week, some 50,000 Israelis demonstrated in Rabin Square against the bill, in a protest led by the country’s Druze minority.
According to organizers, the aim of the protest was to show the “importance in preserving the democratic character of the State of Israel” for all of its citizens.
The impact of the law on Israel’s Druze minority was a particular focus of the rally, with senior figures from the Druze community delivering speeches and many participants waving the multi-colored Druze flag.
“Despite our unlimited loyalty to the state, the state doesn’t consider us equals,” Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif said in a speech at the rally.”The military cemeteries and hundreds of martyrs testify to this, and as we fight for the existence of the state, we are determined to fight for the right to live with equality and dignity.”
“We have never dared to challenge the Jewish identity of the state, and no one can teach us what sacrifice is, and no one can preach loyalty to us,” Tarif said.