The following is a transcript of Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken’s speech on August 11, 2018 at the Israeli Arab-led nation-state law protest, Tel Aviv
Good evening everyone,
On such days it is uplifting to see that so many people have come to fight for democracy.
70 years ago, the State of Israel was founded with a declaration that defined it as a Jewish state that will be open for “Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Thus, in 60 words, Israel was defined as a Zionist country that serves as a home and shelter for the Jewish people, who are safeguarded by the Law of Return; it was also defined as a country where Jewish and non-Jewish citizens are of equal rights.
Among the people who are here tonight there are probably many disputes over important issues pertaining to Israel’s identity and path. But facing a polarizing government, a government that incites against its civilians and has now anchored in a law of discrimination and lowly status of the Palestinian-Israeli minority, we must unite in order to guarantee that in Israeli democracy, equal rights among civilians will be the basis for everything. That’s why I’m here.
The State of Israel, said President Reuven Rivlin, is comprised of four tribes: The Haredi, the secular, the religious and the Arab; two of them are not Zionists. All four are partners in ownership over the state, Rivlin has said. The president also proposed a new way to manage the country, which highlights fairness and equality as its foundations.
Twenty-six years ago, a right-wing government passed the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. The right for equality was not anchored in this law, but court rulings interpreted the legislation as such that includes the value of equality. The extreme right that led the country did not accept this interpretation.
The battle to eliminate the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty has begun, and the current stage, preceding others that may follow in its footsteps, is the nation-state law.
The nation-state law defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and does not mention the word ‘equality,’ thus getting further away from the country’s definition as a Jewish and democratic country (a definition that was already determined in the country’s Basic Laws dating back to 1992). This change, which delivers bad tiding, is meant to intensify the separation between Jews and Arabs and the atmosphere of nationalism in the public debate (which the prime ministers and other ministers encourage).
Even worse is the fact that the clear commitment to equality for non-Jewish citizens is being erased. The goal here is perfectly clear: Israel’s Palestinian-Israeli citizens will have fewer rights. The law is guided toward providing a basis for discrimination against Arab citizens in court rulings, and to make it so that Israel’s definition as a Jewish state will trump the right for equality.
In one area in particular, discrimination is explicit in the law. The Declaration of Independence determined that Israel would work to develop the land for the benefit of its inhabitants, but in the nation-state law, the state views only the development of Jewish settlements as national value. It is no longer a democratic state that cares for the settlement needs of its citizens, but rather a return to pre-state days of the tower and stockade. The situation in the Arab communities is already much worse than that of the Jews. Now discrimination is being legitimized, and the Arab communities will be discriminated against in the allocation of land, infrastructure and budgets under the auspices of the law.
Our struggle is not just a struggle for equal rights for non-Jewish Israelis. It’s a struggle for democracy in Israel. Therefore, every Israeli citizen who is committed to preserving democracy must join the struggle, and not give up until the law is annulled.
What is clear from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unfortunate and speech of incitement – “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls“- is one of the intentions of the nation-state law is that Palestinian citizens of Israel be kept from participating in the political game and voting in the Knesset elections.
One of the most significant threats to Jewish nationalism, as expressed in the nation-state law, is Arab representation in the Knesset, according to a portion of the Israeli population. So I tell you, the Arab citizen: Do not give the right-wing government a prize – despair and isolation. You all have the political power to reshape public discourse in Israel by participating in elections. Use it.
And to all the citizens of Israel, from every tribe, I call to join the struggle against the elimination of democracy, to develop an Israeli society, pluralistic and prosperous, with the participation of minorities in the economy and in politics.